Blockchain Set To Clear Digital Marketing's Murky Waters

Could Blockchain move beyond providing the backbone for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to provide transparency to adland? This is an intriguing question, and one I discussed with two of the main executives behind Truth, the new agency to emerge from ad agency TMG.

The latter already works with the likes of Renault, Microsoft, Samsung and Expedia, and has come to the conclusion that P&G's Marc Pritchard was correct when he referred to digital advertising as "murky at best, fraudulent at worst." Adam Hopkinson, COO of Truth, claims that as much as nine pounds in every ten spent by an advertiser can actually go into costs rather than inventory.

That sounds particularly high to me. Truth, however, believes this is not atypical and that media agency fees plus a trading desk's cut are just the beginning. There are DSP and SSP fees to consider, plus the cut taken by a stack of tech providers providing viewability, fraud and brand safety oversight. So it's not difficult to imagine that those fees might stack up -- even if it's quite a leap to imagine that many advertisers are putting up with 90% of their budget never being seen by the public. Unless, of course, it's happening and they simply have no idea.

Undoubtedly, the whole ecosystem is "at best murky," with advertisers usually lacking clear oversight of who got paid what at which stage of the ad planning and buying process. 

So it seems like blockchain makes a lot of sense. Truth is essentially placing the technology at the heart of its offering to allow advertisers to track every penny of their budget so they know who has been paid how much and thus, how much of their budget is going toward inventory that people can see as well as the costs involved of getting it there.

A couple of things to note from my discussion, ahead of today's launch. It's not clear yet whether Truth will track real money or an encrypted currency. I wondered whether budget will be turned into "Truth Dollars," or something similar, so it can be tracked digitally, or whether good old-fashioned hard cash can be tracked through the system. Also, there are no advertising partners for this at launch. 

Another point worth mentioning is that Adam Hopkinson was very clear that it hopes to bring a lot of the media costs and trading desk commission under a single umbrella so they become a part of what it offers in one bill.

So I have to say this looks more like a statement of intent and an unveiling of a capability right now, rather than a firm launch. None of TMG's clients are signed up, it's not quite clear whether real money or tokens are to be tracked and the simplicity of nearly everything coming through a single agency fee appears to be a way off.

However, the destination makes a lot of sense. Hopkinson talks about advertisers being furnished with a dashboard that will detail exactly where their money has gone. There is nothing Truth can do to interfere in this reporting because it's based on distributed code. It's not in the hands of any single provider to influence, it's a distributed ledger that reports back to the advertiser. And before you ask, it's encrypted -- so only the advertiser concerned can track their spend.

So this is one to watch out for, I reckon, because it's a clear case of technology answering a very clear need rather than a bunch of executives using technology to try and find a problem to solve with. 

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