Blockchain and AI are more than just buzzwords, insists the author.
Blockchain and artificial intelligence are two technologies that have the potential to disrupt the digital marketing industry. Often misunderstood, they can easily be labelled as overhyped buzzwords that won't really have an impact until far into our future. However, with the increasingly rapid adoption of new technologies the world has seen over the last few decades, these technologies may have an impact sooner than most realise.
Blockchain technology has the potential to fundamentally disrupt the industry through increased trust, transparency and a fair exchange of value within the web ecosystem. AI on the other hand has the potential to automate a large set of human tasks in the industry such as identifying target audiences, creating content and even finding the right influencer for your brand.
The role of blockchain in the future of digital marketing
The digital marketing industry is currently facing an enormous trust issue. Trust that a brand's money is being well spent has been eroded by the explosion of click farms, as well as the trust in the placement of their advertising often referred to as "brand safety".
Simply put, blockchain technology is a distributed and transparent database that can record information and transactions in a way that cannot be modified by any company or individual. It is secure and limits the potential for fraud by removing the need for trust in a middleman or third-party to verify these transactions.
To solve the brand safety issues, MetaX has created AdChain, a collaborative, global, decentralised whitelist of approved publishers to bring trust back into the system for brands so that they can ensure they aren't being displayed next to controversial content. Although Google is also working with some publishers to create their own whitelist or ad filter, this is a largely centralised solution and isn't ideal as advertisers will be forced to trust Google's judgement. A blockchain based solution can provide a shared, open and transparent solution.
Trust has also been eroded on the financial side. The industry is suffering from fraud perpetrated by click farms and lack of accountability from ad-tech vendors. Creating more transparency in the advertising supply chain is a very hot topic for brands right now and luckily blockchain may be the technology solution to solve the woes of marketers everywhere. There can be dozens of steps across the media supply chain of intermediaries providing various targeting services that are often paid on a per impression basis with little incentive to accurately report questionable traffic, as that will affect their revenue. A blockchain based media supply chain creates a truly transparent record of every step, from a brand placing an advertisement, all the way through to that ad being displayed in a browser.
Taking this further, blockchain technology may even solve the ultimate problem of consumer frustration with advertising in its current form. Modern consumers are fed up with being expected to receive more ads no matter how irritating they are or how much they ruin the user experience. This isn't sustainable in the long term and the rapid rise in the use of ad blockers demonstrates this very clearly.
Blockchain can help solve this is by rewarding consumers for the role they play in providing their attention and by reducing the abuse of their private information. One blockchain project called Basic Attention Token is integrated with a privacy ensuring browser called Brave that blocks third-party ads and the collection of a user's browsing behaviour. Instead, a user is delivered ads based on the information held within the browser itself, so your private information never gets collected. Your private information remains yours and your browser decides what ads you see, instead of the various servers of advertising technology companies deciding what ad to show you.
So why would consumers accept any ads in this environment? Because in this model you can choose to accept advertising or not, but if you do accept them you are rewarded for providing your valuable attention. A percentage of the money paid by brands for the advertising ends up in your own digital currency wallet as well as ensuring the content creators and publishers get their fair share. Giving brands an accountable and privacy-conscious method of communicating with their audience.
The Impact of AI on Digital Marketing
The rapidly evolving field of AI is also starting to have more of an impact on the digital marketing industry. We have obviously seen the rise of programmatic advertising due to the incredible efficiency of automating what were previously time-consuming human tasks. Overlaying AI on top of programmatic systems may see even more human tasks being replaced, including decision making on how to get greater effectiveness from the media budget. A startup called Sqreem uses AI to identify the right audience for a product/ brand, builds micro-segments out of that information, determines what types of content/ messaging would be most applicable to those micro-segments and then targets those audiences with advertising while constantly optimising spends based on real-time results. It's a somewhat scary, but also very exciting, world of increased automation in advertising!
Beyond improving targeting and effectiveness, another fascinating area of AI is the actual creation of the advertising itself. Creating massively scalable, automated, personalised digital advertising campaigns is too big of a job for humans. So instead, a lot of automated advertising results in irritating ads that follow you around showing you that shoe you clicked on once but don't even like at least 10 times. To fix this, various startups are working on AI products that can instantly generate personalised copy for advertising or social posts based on various inputs. For example, Pencil is creating an AI engine that enables you to input a bunch of long-form product data and letting the AI figure out what the short-form social post or ad should be, based on the target recipient.
There are even start-ups like Affable using AI to pick the right micro-influencers for a brand to engage with. Automated algorithms use social listening to match the right influencers based on a brands target audience, demographics and interests. The engagement with hundreds of micro-influencers is even automated through an assistant feature that coordinates content creation by the influencers. Finally, monitoring and reporting of results is also supported by AI through image analysis to automatically reject any inappropriate content.
Blockchain and AI are two technologies that are often dismissed as just buzzwords. But it has become increasingly apparent over the last year that this is not the case. A multitude of projects and start-ups are right now demonstrating that these technologies are heralding a new era of trust and automation in the digital marketing industry.
(The author is MD, Strategy and Intelligence, VML, Southeast Asia and India. VML is a full service digital agency, part of WPP Group).