ad:tech San Francisco 2014: Much Ado About Everything

Just when you thought the digital landscape couldn’t get any more cluttered, crowded, or confusing, along comes the ad:tech San Francisco 2014 conference to blow that theory. I’m an industry veteran, and I still felt like Dorothy waking up in Oz. Programmatic this! Native that! Mobile here! Video there! And data, data everywhere!

Not that I mind the confusion, disarray, and hyper-stimulation. It gives me a chance to walk in the shoes of advertisers and imagine how they must feel. And at every ad:tech conference, my own curiosity gets piqued (along with a healthy dose of cynicism). The expo floor hosted an array of exhibitors, from integrated marketing agencies to search and ad tech providers to fulfillment and shipping companies, and even nutriceutical private labeling companies (go figure). Aiming to innovate beyond the sessions and the expo floor, ad:tech SF also offered new features such as ad:tech NEXT, which showcased some Internet of Everything providers such as augmented reality, wearables, facial expression recognition, and eye-tracking solutions, and Start-Up Spotlight, in which 16 start-ups selected by four major consumer brands promoted their solutions and competed to be the final winner.

Kicking off day one’s keynote, presenter Noah Elkin, executive editor of eMarketer, shared 14 key facts of the state of the industry. Excerpts from his presentation include:

  • 44 percent of all U.S. daily media time is now spent online
  • 66 percent of all digital advertising dollars ($50B) spent reaching consumer goes to only nine major players (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, IAC, Amazon, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Social advertising accounts for 13 percent of all digital ad spending ($7B)
  • 73 percent of U.S. publishers now offer some kind of native advertising
  • In 2014, though 64 percent of digital display advertising could be purchased programmatically, only 22 percent will be done so in real time (which makes me ask, so how truly automated is the industry yet?)
  • True attribution still eludes us: Only 18 percent of marketers currently employ cross-channel attribution strategies
  • Huge growth in mobile usage: Between 2010 and 2013 there has been a 488 percent increase
  • Mobile advertising now racks up $18B in ad spending, with eMarketer predicting mobile ad spending overtaking desktop spending by 2016
  • By 2018, digital ad spending will overtake television ad spending

Tim Armstrong and Bob Lord of AOL followed Elkin to announce a re-brand to AOL Platforms and the launch of its ONE by AOL position to deliver a “mechanized” solution, that being one combining the best of “human instinct and creativity with machine scale enabled by programmatic.” I’m all for that, as I wrote in my January 2013 ClickZ article.

Keen to hear more about the future of video advertising, I attended a packed session in which Aleck Schleider of Videology and Andrew Feigenson of Nielsen presented “Winning in a World of Screens: Extending TV Campaigns to Digital & Mobile Video.” The duo presented findings of a case study automotive advertiser campaign, which revealed that though 54 percent of the campaign budget went to TV, the TV ads alone reached only 14 percent of the audience “heavily” (10-plus exposures). Deploying TV audience segment targeting then lifted the campaign reach by 3 percent.

Schleider also presented findings from Videology research, including:

  • TV and digital video buying will ultimately merge, with 70 percent of survey respondents agreeing that video campaigns will be planned holistically, though…
  • 60 percent of respondents are unsure who will lead that charge (Will TV be bought more like digital or will digital be bought more like TV?)


Some other interesting nuggets I gleaned from the show:

  • The repeat theme of “cookie-less tracking,” particularly among mobile and cross-device ad providers. I expect new solutions to be launched sooner than anticipated;
  • There are so many digital user behaviors (launching apps {and when}, swiping {or not}, channel changing, social sharing {what, where, and when}, and dozens more) and other variables to create data points from which to analyze and target campaigns, that the list seems endless and wrapping one’s head around the utilization of it all can be overwhelming;
  • As an industry, we still can’t help but love our jargon. I feel that more could be done to simplify and standardize our ad-tech lexicon to be more apparent to advertisers and consumers alike.

With healthy, multi-national crowd exuberance in the future of our industry, I’d say 2014 will be yet another “banner” year for digital advertising.

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