Cleaning up Adtech


(This article first appeared in Martechadvisor on 26th August 2019)

The UK’s online ad sector is worth over £13bn with digital ad spend accounting for the majority (57%) of all UK advertising. It’s the world’s third-largest digital ad market and Europe’s biggest with 19,000 people working in the sector.  However, recently the UK’s Information Commissioner Office (ICO), the independent regulatory office in charge of upholding information rights, issued a warning to our industry and questioned the legality of real-time bidding (RTB) in programmatic advertising, writes, Mark Bembridge, Founder and CEO, Smartology.

RTB is the programmatic selling and buying of online ad impressions through an auction process which happens when a webpage impression occurs. 65% of all UK spend on advertising in digital media is estimated to be traded programmatically.

The use of third-party cookies to collect information about a user when they visit a site is a well-used ploy by marketers. It’s why you are followed around the internet by a company trying to sell you that gym membership you may have viewed last week or why you’ll see ads promoting a football match now the Premier League season has started again.

Also Read: How To Create A Brand Safe Campaign

Protecting personal data

However, consumers are tired of their data being disrespected in this way, and the ICO agrees.

The UK’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said: “People’s personal data is just that – personal. When an organisation fails to protect it from loss, damage or theft, it is more than an inconvenience. That’s why the law is clear – when you are entrusted with personal data, you must look after it. Those that don’t will face scrutiny from my office to check they have taken appropriate steps to protect fundamental privacy rights.”

Right on cue, the ICO hit both British Airways and Marriot Hotels with significant fines for security data breaches. Given the use of data in Real-Time Buying (RTB) and the fact that the ICO has reacted with such hefty fines for British Airways and Marriott, RTB and programmatic players who are still processing personal data without consent should be worried.

ICO has inferred that personal data is being widely used to buy adverts without user consent. It has given our industry six months to get our house in order before they start a more in-depth audit of activity.

Contextual Advertising

As well as needing robust brand safety, marketers will increasingly need to explore tech innovations which deliver quality content to users without the use of third-party data. As a result, contextual advertising is being looked at afresh, where relevant ad experiences are delivered in real-time alongside content that people are reading.

This offers several advantages to brands, publishers and of course, to end-users, which is key in the post-GDPR era – as it’s contextual, no user data is processed. A privacy solution which can drive higher engagement than traditional cookie-based targeting is a golden opportunity going forward.

Moreover, with California, Maine and other US states following in the footsteps of Europe in protecting consumer data, the benefits of context are only set to rise. 

The rise of AI

People hate intrusive, annoying or disruptive ads, and this is why ad-blocking software continue to grow at a steady pace. This is where artificial intelligence comes in. AI helps solve a lot of these headaches.

As brands work out fresh ways to reach consumers with the right content at the right time, Machine Learning and natural language processing will rise to the fore.

These developments move far beyond simple keyword usage to ensure premium media placements are safely matched contextually; no more insurance ads being served next to pieces reporting natural disasters.

Also Read: An Evolution of Programmatic—Programmatic Guaranteed

Regaining trust

The marketing sector is facing huge challenges, including brand safety, transparency, ad fraud, viewability, and fake news. The number one issue, however, is consumer trust.

According to the Advertising Association, Isba and Credos’ research consumer trust in advertising has hit a record low in 2019 with the ’industry’s reputation of being obtrusive, repetitive and unscrupulous.

By refining the context and content of marketing campaigns, you can make sure that each prospective customer is suitably targeted. By delivering messages and insights in context, the brand becomes more helpful to its audience, in turn, driving engagement.

If users know personal data such as race, sexuality, and political opinions, is not being shared with hundreds of organizations around the world in order to target them, then we have a critically important opportunity to redeem lost trust.

Programmatic advertising and RTB have a lot to offer when done in the right way, keeping in mind the privacy of private data of consumers.

However, if we don’t confront the issues of data, trust and privacy head-on to ensure we have a model that fits, then the future sustainability of our industry is at stake.


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