In September, I visited London for ExchangeWire’s 2018 ATS conference, an annual event for the online ad industry drawing in top-level executives from agencies, brands, publishers, and ad tech providers. With any event this large, the amount of information and discussion can be overwhelming. That’s why after listening to debates on some of the biggest developments in ad tech, attending macro-focused workshops to reimagine the future of programmatic, and networking with peers as well as new connections, I’ve returned from ATS London with a few key pieces of advice for advertisers. If you didn’t go, this is what you missed; and if you did go, this is what you shouldn’t have missed. STANDARDIZING DATA UNDER A UNIVERSAL ID In today’s data-driven world, advertisers are overwhelmed with complexity. New channels to explore. New metrics to follow. A new generation coming of age. The excitement around the industry getting that much closer to marketing nirvana is overshadowed by frustration and confusion. The primary pain for most advertisers centers on the inability to match individuals to devices across independent ecosystems. Without a universal user ID, brands are left to make sense of the data coming in from different platforms on their own. A panel of C-suite leaders from Beeswax, PubMatic, Captify, and TripleLift agreed with and amplified this concern. In their view, GDPR and ads.txt have brought independent providers together, but normalizing user data under a universal ID may prove to be a much bigger struggle. The reality is ad tech providers are going up against walled garden giants as well as their industry counterparts, so providers believe they need every advantage they can get to stay marketable. Being part of a shared universal ID goes against this dog-eat-dog mindset. My Advice for Advertisers: The old saying, “Money makes the world go round,” rings true here. The best way to put pressure on providers to band together behind a universal ID is to try to partner with those already working to make this happen. Know if your partners are part of the Advertising ID Consortium or involved in other initiatives to solve for a universal ID. And stay up to date on how their efforts translate to practical applications. TRANSITIONING TO A MORE TRANSPARENT MODEL It should come as no surprise that one of the overarching messages throughout ATS London was the need for increased transparency. Advertisers want more pricing transparency, inventory transparency, value-chain participation, and so on. At the conference, we saw an interesting panel discussion on in-housing, where key figures at Spark Foundry, Electronic Arts (EA), and Infinitive debated the hurdles and benefits of achieving complete transparency. While taking programmatic buying in-house might seem like an easy solution to get full transparency, unless you’re a powerhouse brand, it may not actually help control costs. Building out a team and tech to manage the entire process in-house can get expensive – surging well beyond the expense of working with a partner. For 90% of brands out there, reaching the tipping point where internal control saves long-term dollars isn’t realistic. Instead, pushing for a more transparent model is what advertisers need to rally behind if they want to really maximize media value. You can’t wait for the industry to define the standards of trust; you need to define them yourself and use them to guide who you choose to work with. My Advice for Advertisers: If you don’t know what you are paying for, then you shouldn’t be buying it. Advertisers need to dictate the rules of engagement up front and ask the right questions to understand what they are paying for. Then, let ad tech providers explain the value and expertise they bring to the table. If what you’re getting from a provider is worth it, then you shouldn’t have a problem paying for it. APPLYING BLOCKCHAIN PROCESSES TO AD TECH Aside from the usual suspects, there was one other topic that dominated conversations at ATS London: blockchain. We all crave simplicity. It’s why the Staples “Easy Button” campaign was such a success. But implementing blockchain in the ad tech ecosystem isn’t that simple. At the show, Ken Brook of MetaX, Shailley Singh from IAB Tech Lab, and Charles Manning with Kochava led an interesting debate on “The Application of Blockchain in a Digital Media Environment.” But overall, I was pleased to have the reality of the blockchain situation laid to bare candidly by so many leaders at the conference – there is no doubt that 2019 will be an incredibly important year for blockchain’s development, but a marketable product for our industry is still two to three years away. Everyone is eager to apply blockchain processes to the ad industry, but so many business practices need to get in line before blockchain has a chance of improving things for marketers. For example, all players in the supply chain have to agree to the same ledger (no easy sell) before blockchain can ever be a value creator in preventing fraud or ensuring transparency. My Advice for Advertisers: Don’t worry; you aren’t missing the boat on blockchain. Listen to leading voices from the industry and keep a pulse on how blockchain shapes up in 2019. And don’t get fooled into buying products promising practical blockchain applications – the tech isn’t there yet, so they’re either selling you an oversimplified solution or smoke and mirrors. Overall, the 2018 ATS London event lived up to its reputation. There were so many interesting sessions and insightful keynotes that I could go on and on. But in a world where distractions are at an all-time high and people are busier than ever, I’ll save those thoughts for another blog – or reach out to me anytime if you want to go down the rabbit hole together. What will happen next year, next month, or next week? In this industry, it’s anyone’s guess, but if you want to stay up to date on what’s happening at can’t-miss industry events – like Advertising Week New York happening this week – stay tuned to our blog.