Over-/Underrated: Ads.txt, Blockchain, Other Ad-Tech Topics

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, February 27, 2018

Even for an industry accustomed to game-changing trends and shifts in strategy, the past few months have been rife with potentially disruptive forces in ad tech. But the keyword is “potentially” — because some are getting too much attention, while others are being underestimated.

Apple ITP

The lowdown: Apple recently introduced “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” as a part of its Safari browser release, now blocking the ability to send cookies to third parties determined to be “trackers.”

The Verdict:Overrated

Apple has been going in this direction for a while -- first by blocking third-party cookies by default and now by blocking first-party cookies used in a third-party context. ITP hamstrings the main mechanism ad tech currently uses to identify users across the web outside of the Google and Facebook walled gardens. However, I’ll put an emphasis on the word “currently.” The industry has overcome larger challenges before (shift to mobile, anyone?). A consolidated ID, maintained by either Apple itself or by one or several identity vendors, may be the most likely solution.




The lowdown: Blockchain is a real-time network of distributed ledgers that allows information to be stored and distributed but not changed or copied, and it has no central authority.

The Verdict:Underrated

While many industries are overhyped on how blockchain can solve problems, ad tech is not — and it’s ripe to benefit. Programmatic advertising is plagued with transparency problems and middlemen who get fat off hidden fees. Imagine a blockchain-based model, where an advertiser makes a single request for an audience to the blockchain, which immediately sends that request to all publishers on the network, bypassing the ad supply chain middlemen. When it does this, the fees that media agencies, trading desks, demand-side and supply-side platforms feed off will be reduced.

Google’s ‘Mute this Ad’

The lowdown: Google’s Mute This Ad initiative allows users to signal which ads they’d like to not see again.

The Verdict:Overrated

Letting users mute retargeting ads hands some control back to them. However, an important underlying issue persists: Marketers continue to take a flawed approach to retargeting. Consumers have been able to mute ads and adjust their ad settings on both Facebook and Google for years, but they will continue to be frustrated because marketers are wasting ad spend by repeatedly serving ads to consumers whose decision to purchase won't be influenced by the ads. Ultimately, consumers will continue gaining back control — but currently, it’s almost easier to ignore these ads than go through the process of actually muting them.


The lowdown: Ads.txt is an initiative from the Interactive Advertising Bureau to increase transparency in programmatic advertising, giving publishers a way to tell buyers who is authorized to sell their digital inventory.

The Verdict: Underrated

Ads.txt mostly solved the ad-tech industry’s counterfeit inventory problem, although adoption has been relatively slow. An experiment between a top-tier national publisher and an ad exchange showed that in some cases counterfeit video inventory was much more prevalent than legitimate supply, which is insane.

This leaves many within ad tech genuinely surprised that adoption of Ads.txt hasn’t been quicker. Perhaps many publishers rightly believe they don’t have a counterfeiting problem, but fail to realize that by contributing to Ads.txt adoption, they will funnel more advertising spend to their own site inventory. Still, all parties must remember that Ads.txt is a solution to just one, not all, ad fraud problems.


The lowdown: As of May 25, companies will no longer be allowed to collect a European citizen’s consumer data without identifying their legal basis for doing so.

The Verdict:  Properly Rated

GDPR will intensify the need for transparency about personal information and how it’s used.

Unfortunately, many brands fall short here. They’ve handed their data over to vendors that provide no transparency about fees, ad spend or audience make-up, and on which sites ads are served. It’s reckless to trust them to operate in the spirit of transparency GDPR demands. As a result, brands are already starting to use GDPR as a wake-up call to finally take the time to understand how their customers’ data is being used, and how they want it to be used.

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