History May Repeat Itself, But Not for Ad Tech

It’s time to re-think the focus on optimizing just the ad-targeting technology that goes into delivering the ad and re-imagine the ad itself. Until now, publishers and advertisers have focused their innovation on relatively standard (e.g. 300×250) ads; buying and selling them in real-time, making them more relevant and consequently more ignorable.

But why stop there, when we could make the entire page and content more relevant by creating new ad formats that are informed and connected to what the reader is doing in real-time, relevant to the page? For years, advertisers have been solving for the ad and not the user, mainly because it was easy to scale and there was an editorial wall that separated content and ads.

Keeping Old Systems Alive Pushing Some Ad Tech Beyond Its Life Expectancy

At some point, enough is enough. The industry needs to break free of the downward, programmatic pressure of the current ecosystem and create something completely new. Facebook did it. Twitter did it. While the past few years of technology targeting advances are great, continuing to keep some of these systems alive may be pushing them beyond their natural life expectancy.

The industry is putting massive artificial intelligence (AI) into propping up declining units that, in all honesty, were designed for entirely different purposes. Like the browser cookie (which many have stated was never designed to be used in the ways it is today to personalize content), advertising and store privacy preferences, many standard ad formats have reached the end of their natural lifespan. It’s clear the answer is not to keep innovating through the same tiny units on a page.

We’ve seen this before. Why have several cable companies not moved to fiber optic lines instead of copper? Because they can squeeze out a few more years of revenue and profit before they are forced by competitors to change.

Even our beloved Apple slows innovation to maximize profits. You know that Tim Cook and team have already planned the next two years of Apple products, but instead of wholesale changes, they’re slowly rolling out upgrades. This was Microsoft’s business for over 20 years: massive license fees on Windows Operating Systems upgrades. Now that business is in dramatic decline and the concept of an operating system has been redefined by Apple, Google and others.

Strapping a Robot to a Horse

So why do we keep improving the technology around the ad without improving the ad format itself? It’s kind of like strapping a robot to a horse. You’re still only going to move at the pace of the horse, despite the advanced robotic technology. Most likely, you’ll exhaust that horse and quicken its demise in the process.

How about we wipe the slate clean. Stop patching and plugging systems that are held together with bubblegum and AI.

Some things are constant; consumers want great content, trusted recommendations and relevant information when they need them. It’s time to bring AI and real-time to content in a way that makes advertising useful, device appropriate and engaging, not infuriating.

This will require working closely with some of the world’s top advertisers and publishers, to understand how people and content interact. It requires the creation of new technologies that leverage these organic behaviors, innovating new features and ad experiences where none existed before. That would be a solid start.

The New Ad Tech is More Integrated, Respectful & Relevant

What’s so powerful – and disruptive – is the fact that the future of the advertising business will not be like the past. I expect that the techniques and technology that built the current ad tech empires will not be as relevant going forward.

If we focus, we can take the entire consumer experience and industry to a completely new level; solving real consumer needs and wants, in ways that are integrated, respectful and relevant. Depending on where you sit, that’s either really scary or really exciting.

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