A walk through the ad tech labyrinth

There’s an online publication called MediaScope that provides an annual visualisation of all the companies in the Australian market providing digital advertising and marketing services across all the available channels.

When the most recent edition is viewed independently, it makes for little more than a complicated directory listing of all the companies operating across the industry. However, when the latest version is compared to those released over the last few years it paints a picture of how quickly the ad tech industry is expanding. And while the report is based on the Australian market, many of the companies listed are also active on this side of the ditch.  

The latest report is so complex and features so many company names that it’s surprising that MediaScope owner Denise Shrivell even had the endurance to puzzle together this map of the industry.

Included among the myriad businesses on the list is AdRoll, and the company’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Ben Sharp, isn’t surprised by the marked increase in digital advertising services in recent years.

“The reason why there has been such an explosion of ad tech over the last 12 months is because this is the way the market is moving,” Sharp says. “It shows there’s a huge need and demand in the market for innovative and market leading solutions. And there are a bunch of new entrants to the market that are coming in to solve that need.”

As is the case in every industry, demand is met by supply, and the ad tech industry is no different. But what makes ad tech a little trickier is that this isn’t quite a case of pineapples becoming popular and then seeing them in all the supermarkets. What ad tech vendors sell often varies from organisation to organisation, and this can make things complicated.

“I think the ad tech ecosystem is definitely confusing,” Sharp admits.  

“Any marketer who is first exposed to the ad tech market is very likely to get confused around what type of solution different vendors might be able to deliver.”

Sharp believes the chaos that currently typifies the industry isn’t unusual, and that the dust will settle as digital advertising matures.

“What we’ll find over time, as we do in any other market, is that there’ll be disruption and expansion and then there’ll be a degree of consolidation in different parts of the market.”

This is certainly happening already, with various start-ups—and sometimes even more established companies—being acquired by bigger players in the market.

“Just look at Adometry, which was bought by Google,” says Sharp. “This is an example of a great business bought by a much larger player in the market.”

As this tech consolidation continues, it will likely reduce the overall number of players over time and thereby eliminate some the confusion that currently pervades the industry.

You’ve been blocked

Although complexity persists in the industry, many marketers are becoming more comfortable with the jargon and technicalities of digital advertising. And as a corollary, this means they don’t accept things at face value and they’re starting to ask some pressing questions of their tech partners.

Ad fraud, viewability and adblocking have become common discussion points, and these issues are proving major challenges for anyone operating in digital advertising.

Josh Moses, the lead solutions consultant at AdRoll, says his team is constantly grappling with these topics to ensure clients get the best possible service.  

“We’re happy the industry is having these conversations,” he says. “It’s good for the clients.”

On the topic of adblockers, Moses says that AdRoll is not interested in finding ways to serve ads to people who have taken the active step of trying to avoid them.  

“To put it simply, if people don’t want to see those ads then there’s absolutely no benefit in us trying to find ways to get around ad blocking to show them ads,” he says. “It’s a really small subset of users who use adblockers. It’s certainly not doom and gloom.”

It’s also worth pointing out that publishers, rather than tech companies, are spearheading the fight against adblockers because they stand to lose the most. Major publishers like the Guardian, the Atlantic and a host of others consistently make pleas to users to deactivate their adblockers, and Swedish publishers have even taken this a step further by banding together and banning browsers with adblockers activated.     

It’s also understood the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in New Zealand is also investigating this issue, and looking into ways to ensure that adblockers don’t continue to deprive publishers of revenue earning potential.

Served but not seen

Viewability has a more direct impact on the ad tech players, in that it isn’t exactly conducive to their business to serve ads that are never seen by anyone. And to ensure that this happens as little as possible, Moses says AdRoll has developed a range of tools to ensure that its ads are viewable.

“The industry average is about 45 percent viewable. And AdRoll in Asia Pacific is sitting at around 70 percent viewability and that continues to improve with the changes we make to our algorithm.”

Moses says that AdRoll is “constantly auditing the websites and publishers” it partners with to ensure that they’re getting viewable ads in front of eyeballs. And this process also includes scanning websites to ensure that impressions are served to humans rather than bots.

If any publishers do not meet the standards of AdRoll, they are added to a blacklist and the company will not serve ads to their collection of sites.  

Moses goes on to make the point that if a customer wants 100 percent viewability, AdRoll is happy to work towards this (although this will come at premium).

Up and up

One thing that’s clear is that these problems are not impeding the programmatic market so far. The 2015 figures from the IAB showed that spend on programmatic now accounts for 16 percent of total display ads, accounting $22.8 million (a year-on-year increase of 123 percent).

What’s more is that AdRoll research shows that marketers are looking to shift more of their budgets across to programmatic this year.

But with increased spend comes a greater call for accountability, and marketers are now calling on their ad tech partners to prove that the spend is working.

“Attribution is one of the hot topics at the moment, and there’s a growing need to solve this,” says Sharp. “As it stands at the moment, no one has fix-all model for attribution across all businesses. It’s a very complex part of the market.”

But Moses adds that tech companies are making significant progress in this regard.

“If you’re looking to attribute credit to one medium, at least in the digital landscape, you can do that and AdRoll can help you do that,” says Moses. “The beauty of tools like Google Analytics is that they make it relatively simple. We train all our staff on the different attribution models you can use.”

Because it is easier to develop an attribution model around digital, Moses recommends that marketers place digital at the centre of their marketing plans.

“If you’re working toward a performance-based model, then you want everything positioned around your digital campaign first. The really smart marketers are using the digital campaigns at the heart of their advertising programme. So what we see is that TV and outdoor are really here to support the digital conversions.”

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