Blockchain is one of those words that automatically splits people into two camps. The first tend to roll their eyes and quickly shut down any argument for execution in real life, while the second are more open to exploring the fledgling technology and its many uses. I fall into this category.

A year ago, I wasn’t so convinced. Blockchain had become an overused buzzword, favored for its hype over proven implementation. Our industry was just as guilty as others for putting it on a pedestal alongside data and AI, proclaiming them ‘the future’. I’m not someone who dwells on the theoretical side of things. I prefer to take action, focusing more on the here and now.

Even six months ago when I looked at predictions for programmatic, blockchain was, at the time, still largely untested in the field, but like so many things right now, change has accelerated our learning and application at an unparalleled rate. Pre-Corona, businesses were already starting to shift their offering digitally, implementing more data-driven advertising and marketing strategies, as well as looking at internal processes to improve efficiencies and output. Now, it’s like an explosion has gone off. No-one is dragging their feet, everyone is having to pivot and pivot fast.

The Road To Recovery – Think Digital 

For those of us in the digital ad industry, it’s been an uncertain time. Programmatic was one of the first casualties of the pandemic as brands looked to make cuts quickly. Ironically, with more people online than ever before, this would have been an ideal time to increase spending in this vertical. Still, as the economy begins to open up and shoots of recovery emerge, a recent study suggested 66% of marketers now expect to spend more on programmatic advertising in the coming months. It’s looking positive.

Our priority right now is to ensure value in every transaction. Metrics will be scrutinised even more as ROI becomes central to the conversation, which means a greater emphasis on the two things that have always plagued digital advertising; fraud and transparency. Enter blockchain. There is huge potential for us to completely reshape the media landscape, putting effective measurement and clean, targeted inventory at its core.

The days of blockchain being limited to aiding the financial sector are long gone; this is a technology that can be leveraged by multiple industries. Globally, the blockchain technology market is expected to be worth over $23.3billion by 2023, rising to $176billion by 2025. It’s about time that the advertising and marketing industry woke up to its potential.

Back To Blockchain Basics

One of the biggest challenges we face is in demystifying blockchain as a concept. It’s still widely viewed by marketers as an ‘experimental’’ technology, despite big brand names like Unilever and Pfizer giving it their backing, both joining a consortium for ad-buying blockchain solutions as far back as 2018. Today, you have tech giants, such as IBM, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft all investing in blockchain-powered ad platforms. It’s no longer in ‘beta’, but a very real and tangible solution we could all benefit from taking a closer look at.

Before that happens at scale however, we need to do our part as Ad Tech vendors to educate and inform. Much like we took programmatic back to basics, we now need to do the same with blockchain so that everyone is on a level playing field when it comes to operating and understanding this technology.

That all starts by defining what blockchain actually is and how it can be used efficiently within the wider ad ecosystem. Essentially, blockchain is a technology that empowers transparency and process. Simple. Where this is significant in digital advertising is in offering a secure environment for all parties. Of course, there are challenges to integrating blockchain across the whole ecosystem, particularly given how unique (and at times, complex) digital advertising can be, however if done well then this could be a win-win for everyone; for advertisers (a welcome boost to their bottom line), publishers (a tool to help curb ad fraud) and consumers (a better and more relevant experience online).

Let’s look at this in real terms. Recently, we worked on implementing a blockchain campaign for a QSR (quick-service restaurant) in the Middle East. By committing to 100% transparency at every stage of the process, which includes running comparisons of data between the clients’ delivery, the agency’s delivery and blockchain tracking in order to view and monitor events in real-time, the client is able to see what’s happening on a granular audience level at any given moment.

It’s easy to take something like that for granted, but by deploying blockchain in digital ad campaigns such as this, not only will it help mitigate the risk of ad fraud, but it also offers buyers enhanced visibility, and at the same time, allows suppliers to match user IDs to account for any spillovers of ineffective impressions.

All Aboard The Blockchain Train! 

Moving forward in a post-pandemic world, we’ll see the adoption of digital solutions happen much quicker; less back and forth, more buy-in based on value offering. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what blockchain could be capable of. The big picture stuff is fraud prevention and transparency in the ad supply chain, but even on a granular everyday level, it can be used to target the right audience, customize ads and serve those ads to the right people and within a limited time frame; waving goodbye to ad fatigue, essentially. Publishers could also use blockchain technology to ensure greater compliance, particularly as GDPR matures and more regulatory framework begins to emerge to protect user privacy. The list, as they say, is endless.

For now, I’ll settle for a conversation that inspires action between all the key stakeholders, asking how theoretical blockchain can become a reality. We’ve already seen the destruction of businesses who didn’t embrace technology quick enough when the pandemic hit, and now we have the rare chance to start from scratch, educate ourselves properly and commit to real change. Ultimately, it’s happening, whether we’re ready or not. Marketers, the blockchain train is in the station and ready to ride; it’s time to get on board.

By Nader Bitar