afaqs!

Deconstructing blockchain in digital advertising

By Pramod N , What Clicks, Mumbai | In Digital | July 13, 2017
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Blockchain can help monitor ad placements and conduct real-time audits of ad delivery.

The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions.

Pramod N Pramod N

I think I lost you there. Let me take a step back. In this article, I'm trying to put forth my views on whether the blockchain technology in the digital advertising space will actually be an industry disruptor.

If you need to understand more about what the technology is and all about and how it works, Google is your best friend.

If I were to explain it in simple terms, blockchain technology is a decentralised system that enables all the participants to keep track of information across the system. Any manipulation of the information within the system will have to be approved by all the participants, hence making the information within it secure.

Now let us see if the technology can address the three main issues in the industry:

• Transparency
• Fraud
• Efficiency

Transparency

Blockchain could provide a mechanism for marketers and advertisers to know, with certainty, where their ad has been placed. Considering the recent issues that plagued the Google network about ads placed on some questionable sites, this could potentially help advertisers and publishers identify and blacklist such destinations and restore trust and transparency when it is needed the most. In addition to that, it can not only remove the lack of trust that marketers feel around programmatic delivery (a centralised system), but maybe, one day simplify the process for brands to go directly to publishers. Whether the last point is a good thing is subject to debate, but here from a blockchain perspective, this is a possibility.

Fraud

Consider a scenario where a random website that you've never heard of says that they can make sure your ads on their website will be seen by millions of people or that they can guarantee a certain number of clicks. You have no way of knowing if they are telling the truth about these numbers. Even if you were to build a tracking mechanism to measure these, you still wouldn't know for sure if these are by real people or by bots.

Blockchain can help monitor ad placements and conduct real-time audits of ad delivery. Each of your ads could be located in real-time.

Efficiency

Because of the openness and the transparency of the technology, blockchain can help improve on the efficieny of the money you spend by almost removing the necessity of 'the middleman' who facilitates the transaction between the advertiser and web owner. With the right implementation, blockchain is most likely to guarantee the validity of the clicks between the advertiser and the web owner.

It also helps in efficiency as centralising auditing through companies like Accenture or Deloitte becomes too involving and expensive.

But on the flipside, while everything seems ideal, the situation is far from reality. The problem is the need for adoption - multiple providers at different levels need to sign on the blockchain to make this work: the brand, the agency, the DSP, the exchange and the publisher and therefore, the success of this is largely dependent on the level of adoption at different levels. Right now, most products are in beta.

Some companies that are already implementing this

Adtech company MetaX launched 'adchain', a use of the blockchain ledger to essentially tag a creative and then follow it on the internet to figure out whether it was seen, who saw it, where it actually ran, conversion rates and how the budget was spent along the chain.

New York Interactive Advertising Exchange, in partnership with Nasdaq, will let inventory be sold using blockchain technology. It uses blockchain in a different way: smart contracts which let you facilitate exchanges and when used on the blockchain, will let certain contracts execute automatically, as long as conditions are met.

BitTeaser, a Danish ad network, displays all click-throughs in the blockchain in real time, which can be easily tracked by users.

Conclusion

While wider adoption of the technology is still in its infancy, the technology definitely can disrupt the advertising space, primarily because it can tackle issues like transparency, fraud and efficiency. It has taken years for the bitcoin to reach where it is now, so there is no doubt that blockchain can do a similar thing for the ad industry - like what it is doing to the financial sector with crypto currencies like bitcoin.

With the right support and adoption, in the next 5 years, we will probably get to see a more efficient digital advertising ecosystem where one need not rely on the trust factor, but can take information led decisions.

(The author is co-founder and chief technology officer, What Clicks, a digital media audit and strategy firm.)

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