If you work in digital not a day goes by when you hear a reference to blockchain. If you don’t know what it is, here’s our attempt to explain it, in a nutshell. Blockchain or Distributed Ledger Technology (or DLT) is a way of securing data securely. Very securely. A blockchain is cryptographically secured with a ‘key’, each node, or chain of data is secured using a cryptographic hash of the previous. Only a person with the key to the blockchain can unlock the data. This means data cannot be hacked or interfered with in any way by a person or persons who have a vested interest in manipulating this data. So, what’s that got to do with digital marketing I hear you ask? Good question, but it is what a lot of companies are spending time and money on investigating right now, you see the rewards are great and that reward is really quite simple; total transparency.

Machine or Human?

Since the advent of digital media advertisers have wanted to know how their advertising spend is being utilised. Who is clicking on their ads and what action are they taking? A whole eco-system has grown up around advertising attribution as well as the smart way to target ‘look-a-like’ audiences. But a blockchain application could enable advertisers, agencies and publishers to deliver total transparency and remove the need for much of the ‘dark arts’ which surround Advertising Technology or AdTech for short. Here’s how…

Eyeballs and clicks

Digital Advertising, like most traditional advertising, is sold on reach. In the case of broadcast advertising, this could mean how many people are reached during the middle break of ‘Coronation Street’ or how many people read the business pages of The Observer. In Digital these eyeballs are sold on impressions (in the case of digital display) or a click in the case of Pay-Per-Click advertising (display or search). The complications arise with digital advertising when you add machines into the mix. What’s to say that a person who clicked on your ad was really a person and not a machine? Ad Fraud, according to The Drum, could have cost industry $16.4 billion in 2017.

Transparency

Blockchain could completely eradicate this and, conceptually, the solution is really quite simple. In the case of digital display and search on desktop enabled devices the targeting and tracking mechanism is predicated on the firing of a cookie (small files which sit on the hard-drive of a computer when a browser lands on a website). If the record of that Cookie was stored and validated on a blockchain both publishers (websites and Google) and advertisers would know that the person who clicked an ad or took an action was a genuine person. At the moment advertisers rely on the reporting platforms of 3rd parties i.e. Google who will always have a vested interest in making sure their ads appear to be performing. We’re not saying Google knowingly present fraudulent clicks as genuine ones but given the lack of alternative sales and reporting platforms (specifically for SME’s), it is a possibility.

The Mobile Conundrum

When targeting mobile devices the process can become even more complex. Demand Side Platform’s (DSP’s) use Artifical Intelligence to best guess (make assumptions) about where and to whom to serve ads to based on UDID’s (the unique reference number each mobile device has, but not the mobile number, confusingly!). Cookies, especially on Apple devices, are not persistent on mobile thus targeting (and reporting) is often a hybrid methodology based on a myriad of different data sources and assumptions about the audience. If this seems tough to comprehend, imagine trying to report and attribute, especially for the uninitiated. If we could add blockchain to the targeting and reporting process the result would be transparency. The blockchain could simplify the aggregation and reporting of the data and add 3rd party and trusted verification layer into the mix, thus delivering total transparency. Fraud could be completely removed from the equation.

As you can see digital advertising can be fraught with complexity but if you want to de-mystify some of this, please feel free to get in touch.