When the first ad exchange launched, when the first true programmatic campaign launched, and when the first video ad launched — people took notice. Yet many had their doubts. Blockchain in advertising is similar. To some, it’s a revolution that will disrupt centralized power in the advertising industry’s ecosystem, remove ad fraud, and create complete transparency. To others, it’s a fad.
But regardless of blockchain’s true capabilities, the timeline to adopting new technologies and innovations continues to shorten. It could take mere months until blockchain technology is a regular in the advertising supply chain. Whether a revolution or a fad, it’s important that we test blockchain-based ad tech alternatives so that we can re-establish trust in an industry that is rapidly losing it.
Over the past three years, Never Stop Marketing tracked 48 companies that aim to decentralize programmatic advertising. Most articles about these companies discuss what will be possible, but not which solutions marketers can use today. By way of example, just under a year ago, we covered 22 companies that we thought were notable in the space.
These companies are focused on five programmatic advertising challenges:
This is the list of the companies that we’ve uncovered with products in market (in alphabetical order) for blockchain in advertising:
The promise: AdNode creates accountability by automating the buying and reconciliation process in digital advertising. Automation eliminates the manual invoicing process, increases visibility into the success of campaigns, and increases the efficiency of advertiser’s media investment. AdNode’s platform integrates with the advertiser’s existing ad measurement vendors, automatically generates invoices, and enables marketers to seamlessly reallocate budgets to their top-quartile performers. AdNode minimizes friction in digital advertising, especially for programmatic preferred and direct campaigns.
Success to date: AdNode is running pilot programs with well-known advertisers and publishers. An appealing aspect of AdNode’s model is that there is no fee to clients or agencies. The platform’s revenue stream is based exclusively on publisher fees.
The promise: AdsDax focuses on mobile rich-media campaigns focusing on solving four problems: Fraud, Transparency, consumer data privacy, and consumers connection to brands. They do this by sending ad data from their device directly to the blockchain where is verified and validated by third parties. This transparent data is available to the advertiser almost immediately, allowing them to review what was bought in real-time, so they can spend their dollars more efficiently. Finally, they reward publishers for high-quality inventory.
Success to date: Havas ran a pilot with AdsDax: “Over the course of the campaign, 2.3 million mobile device users interacted with the advertisement, and AdsDax was able to directly track all user engagements from user’s mobile devices on a public blockchain. By using a blockchain tracking layer, advertisers were able to more clearly see progress towards their campaign goals.”
The promise: Amino Payments records every transaction made to help media buyers track exactly where and when money is being spent with each vendor. This exposes and eliminates any hidden costs in media buying contracts, as the negotiator, in this case, is the blockchain itself rather than the companies hoping to profit.
Will Luttrell, CEO of Amino, said it best on LinkedIn, “There is a solution that will eliminate ad fraud. Not mitigate, not suppress, not investigate: eliminate. It does not involve a new wave of super-sophisticated fraud detection wizardry — I’ve built a lot of that (and hats off to my allies still fighting in the trenches at the verification companies and teams at Google and other places.)
Amino’s solution gives brands a simple, complete view of the money trail all the way down to publishers and data vendors. Fraud is made possible when money can be hidden. Transparency solves fraud. That technology is here, right now.”
Success to date: Some of the world’s largest and forward-thinking brands, agencies, and ad tech partners have joined the Amino Network to say “enough.” An interesting application of Amino’s solution is the ability to determine the actual amount of money lost to fraud and waste. In a recent campaign with Nestlé, Integral Ad Science found 3.77% of impressions to be outside of brand safety guidelines. In a typical campaign, Nestlé would receive credit for about 3.77% of spend in order to compensate for those unsafe impressions. However, using Amino Payments, Nestlé was able to see the exact cost of each unsafe impression which, in total, represented 9.23% of spend. By layering impression-level financial transparency with verification data, Nestlé was able to save 5.46% more than what they would have saved without Amino Payments.
The promise: Blockchain4Media takes a holistic approach to clean up the programmatic supply chain. They provide transparency into the details of each ad placement with blockchain as the final source of truth for each transaction. Their CPMH (Cost Per Thousand Humans) approach to media buying accountability offers brands and advertisers a way to ensure they are only buying media seen by human beings. Their technology also identifies and provides publisher inventory quality insights and details.
Blockchain4Media leverages the power of Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and blockchain technologies to provide the most advanced media buying possible. Smart fraud detection, advanced levels of viewability, and validation of individual ad placement details allow real-time campaign optimization, cost savings, and higher ROI. Publishers also get viewability into their inventory quality to mitigate potential fraud issues.
Success to date: Blockchain4Media launched their first in the market pilot the end of 2018 with one of the world’s largest CPG brands and electronics manufacturer. They identified almost 20% invalid and fraudulent traffic beyond the current in-market solution, and up to 76% fraudulent individual publisher activity. A recent campaign identified over 30% invalid and fraudulent traffic compared to the existing solution. Blockchain4Media is conducting global POCs and market rollouts in the US, EU, and APAC. They are active members of the IAB Tech Lab Blockchain Working group and are helping shape the industry blockchain standards.
The promise: Blockgraph is an industry initiative led by Comcast’s FreeWheel, designed to make data usable across the TV ecosystem in a secure way. At the core of the initiative is the Blockgraph platform, a technology that enables advertisers and media companies to control, connect, and safely activate their data at-scale. It does this by allowing each data owner to keep control of their data while connecting into a shared identity layer without exposing any underlying data to third parties. In contrast to how other companies may use blockchain, it is one tool within a broader framework of technologies that Blockgraph employs to deliver its end goal: secure, scalable, data-enabled TV advertising. More specifically, Blockgraph hopes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of data-driven TV advertising by supporting better planning, targeting, execution, and measurement across screens.
Success to date: Blockgraph just celebrated its two-year anniversary and has been working with some of the biggest companies in TV, digital video, and advertising across the US and Europe to help drive the next phase of this industry-focused solution. What can we expect in the year ahead? Blockgraph plans a series of pilots with major distributors, programmers, and advertisers that should provide a strong foundation of proof points that the technology is ready to go. According to Jason Manningham, General Manager of Blockgraph, “Advertisers want the best of both worlds. They want to use data for their television buys like they do for their digital media buys, yet also get the quality content that TV provides. Fortunately, advertisers are extremely optimistic about what’s currently possible in data-driven TV buying and plan to use data on a growing portion of their TV ad spend going forward.”
The promise: Brave is a browser that protects consumers’ privacy and blocks ads. For those who choose to view ads, Brave rewards people for their attention with BAT (Basic Attention Token) and gives users a 70% cut. When consumers opt-in their identity remains anonymous and the platform’s blockchain capabilities are able to record accurate and secure data on the consumer’s engagement for publishers. It is a balance on fraud protection for advertisers and ethical ad targeting that protects the consumer and allows them to control their permissions. Brave’s BAT was one of the more well known and early ICO’s in the ecosystem.
Success to date: Brave started opened up their advertising platform in April. By May over 1,300 advertisers were on the waiting list. The ads show up as “notifications” in your browser and click to a new tab. Reports on Twitter show a 20% CTR in initial campaigns. Over 10 million users have downloaded the Brave Browser.
The promise: HQ’d in the UK, Fenestra focuses on media supply chain transparency for programmatic transactions. These transactions can be recorded, verified and reconciled in a trusted environment, based on HyperLedger Fabric, giving advertisers greater performance from their media investment and an accompanying suite of proprietary supply-path optimization tools.
Success to date: “Fenestra delivered its first platform product focused on transparency in programmatic supply-chains in late 2018. The company launched its network and dashboard earlier this year with a partnership with Johnson & Jonhson’s agency, FourComms Health. Richard Springham, FourComms managing director described the results: “FourComms used Fenestra to track J&J’s Nicorette Winter activity. We identified up to 49% performance improvements through Fenestra whom also gave us greater surety over the data we were seeing.” The business now counts leading programmatic vendors such as Adobe, Amobee, Oath, Sonobi, and MiQ as data partners.
Since launch, the business has been partnering with an accelerating group of digital agencies and advertisers to deliver greater trust and transparency on a cross-platform basis.”
The promise: IBM has a deep affinity towards Hyperledger, which is an open-source blockchain protocol started by the Linux foundation in which IBM was an early supporter of. Their latest efforts include partnering with Mediaocean to launch a blockchain-backed planning tool to give agencies full transparency into the full lifecycle of their spend. This allows advertisers to have an ROI based spend, fee transparency, uncover fraud, and measure ad viewability.
Success to date: There was press around their consortium of partners that have signed on, including a pilot with Unilever.
The promise: Kiip began as a rewarded advertising model in mobile. They evolved to a premium, “moments-based” ad model where brands can serve ads in moments of pause during app usage. Kiip’s partners are largely directly integrated app partners using SDK’s and tags, and so are able to get data transparency of delivery parallel to other pixel trackers from ad servers. With this transparency, they launched a blockchain-based product called Single Ledger which records ad delivery data down to the impression on Ethereum. They also leveraged Single Ledger to manage media upfronts in the form of an ad bank that leverages tokens on Ethereum as well.
Success to date: They launched a pilot campaign with AB InBev last year at Advertising Week and have been working with more than 20% of their live campaigns on leveraging Single Ledger’s capabilities. They also worked with a large top 5 agency holding company to show transparency of their ad spend against a media bank balance on an Ethereum wallet – effectively using the same transparency principle to show a media agency how every dollar in their upfront was being spent, recorded on-ledger.
The Promise: Lucidity focuses on bringing transparency and auditability to digital advertising analytics. Specifically, they use blockchain to match signals from important members of the supply chain – namely DSPs, SSPs, and verification vendors – in order to authenticate campaign data like impressions and clicks. This provides advertisers with a reliable set of data to understand what’s happening between parties, cut waste, and optimize their campaigns.
Success to date: Lucidity was named a partner of IBM’s Blockchain Accelerator program earlier this year. The company is also leading key initiatives with the IAB Tech Lab’s Blockchain Working Group. It was the first to release results from the IAB’s Blockchain Pilot Program, which included findings from more than a dozen brands who benefitted from having the ability to uncover high rates of impression and click discrepancies in their programmatic buys. On the heels of Lucidity’s highly publicized work with Toyota last year, the company is in-market with case-studies from clients across the entertainment, CPG, finance, and more. They have also released a self-serve Lucidity dashboard to a select group of agency and brand users.
The promise: MadHive’s ad platform allows broadcast networks to sell linear advertising alongside OTT inventory, as well as providing brands with planning, targeting, measuring and optimizing tools across cross-platform linear and OTT campaigns in real-time. They leverage cryptography, blockchain, and AI to optimize business outcomes.
Success to date: MadHive is currently powering linear to OTT reach extension, targeting, and fraud detection in 95%+ of the DMAs across the United States, giving local broadcasters the ability to offer addressable advertising and enabling brands to reach local markets.
The promise: NYIAX is known for its NASDAQ backing, and utilizes the “NASDAQ Financial Matching Engine” in its technology. Their focus is on activating “upfronts every day”, which provides programmatic delivery of direct-to-publisher, guaranteed contracts through their advanced contract management platform. In other words, a true private marketplace, leveraging blockchain to ensure compliance across contracts and bring transparency to the supply chain. This also helps publishers understand with predictability quarterly or yearly what rates and inventory are being purchased, whilst seeing these orders minted on the blockchain.
Success to date: NYIAX is running limited pilots with top publishers and top brands through their holding company relationships. In Cannes they announced an exclusive partnership with IPONWeb, providing the front-end trading platform to access the “curated supply” from IPONWeb’s newly launched MediaGrid’s infrastructure.
The promise: Rebel Ai seeks to eliminate domain spoofing by cryptographically sealing advertisers creative with a public/private key combination. They create a unique ID for every publisher so advertiser’s creative only appear on the true domain. Their technology sniffs out pixels and JS scripts on websites to understand the flow of ads and to detect all middlemen in the process. This leads to their blockchain solution – using the classic elements of the ledger, smart contracts, and consensus to verify if the parties in that supply chain are who you want it to be.
Success to date: Rebel AI has worked with both US and EU brands, agencies, and publishers to run encrypted display and video campaigns in order to detect domain spoofing. These campaigns uncovered rates of up to 30% in the open exchange and 15% in private marketplaces.
The promise: “Ternio has built a highly scalable blockchain that enables brands and advertisers to independently log every unique ad impression they purchase on a chain – all transacted in a programmatic environment. This gives the brand or ad agency first-hand insight into the amount paid for the ad, how many brokers were involved in the transmission, and if they are the victim of double-dipping. It also opens up the door for a real-time, instant payment tied to a smart contract.”
Success to date: Ternio has partnered with Amazon’s AWS to deploy its advertising at scale. It will be interesting to see if Amazon’s purchase of Sizmek allows for additional transparency for Sizmek’s clients.
In summary, blockchain in advertising may have limitations, but its utility is starting to become clearer and many more key players in the ecosystem are beginning to adopt and to test it. Given all the issues we’re facing in our industry, blockchain seems to be the most unbiased way to reconcile consumer concerns with ad delivery right now.
As more companies convert to transparency and privacy-first model through the use of blockchain, we’ll see more results and happier customers and advertisers. The 14 companies investing in the future of blockchain in advertising are undoubtedly pioneers in their own right — and need all of our help in providing the support to make this technology mainstream.
Donny Dvorin is the SVP of National Sales at Acuity Ads and GM of Never Stop Marketing.
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