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Behind adtech’s magic curtain; and ‘woky’ Cannes

18 Apr 2019  |  Dominic Mills 
Behind adtech’s magic curtain; and ‘woky’ Cannes

Adtech doesn't have an image problem so much as it has a behaviour one, writes Dominic Mills. Plus: Cannes' infuriating new guidelines

Like me, you may be bored of hearing the current double mantra circulating round adland. But we hear it increasingly as it becomes the ‘thing’ that adland hopes will rescue it.

Part one is ‘the future is personalised advertising at scale’; part two, and this really does seem like wishful thinking to me, is the belief that if only the industry served up more relevant advertising, then the public’s disenchantment and distrust would go away. Hooray. The sunny uplands beckon.

Not so fast, if we are to put any weight on a recent survey commissioned by the Information Commissioner’s Office with some help from Ofcom (thanks to Addicted’s Simon Andrews for drawing my attention to it).

You can read the full report here.

Findings start off reasonably positively:

• People accept that ads exposure is the price they pay for free web services, although a hardcore 13% don’t;

• Over half (54%) would rather see ‘relevant’ ads than random ones;

• 52% believe they have some or full control over what they are shown — but 42% don’t;

• Almost six in ten (59%) believe the ads they see are personalised to them some of time.

Then some of the shine wears off...

• Unprompted, only a quarter recall seeing information on a site about how ads are personalised — and 50% say they have not seen this information;

• Prompted visually with examples of preference messaging, recall rises to 82%;

• About half say they click on the preferences some or all of the time to check out how relevance is achieved, and the rest (53%) say they don’t;

• Of those who don’t, 50% say they just ignore the ads anyway; 29% say they can’t do anything about it; and 21% don’t care;

• Via various methods (adblockers, deleting cookies, changing browser settings), 41% say they have tried to stop any ads being displayed.

And then, the survey tested perceptions of online advertising after showing respondents how adtech works (see slide below).

At this point, depending on your point of view, things get interesting/fall off a cliff. In a nutshell, the public go right off not just personalisation/relevance, but also ad exposure per se.

The percentage which finds ads acceptable falls from 63% to 36%, while that which finds them unacceptable rises from 14% to 43%; and of that 43%, six in ten (61%) don’t want to see ads that are relevant.

And in descending order (i.e. hated most to hated least) the data used by advertisers that bug them are: device IDs (55%); user IDs (53%); and age, location, browsing history and search history (all 51%). The things they mind least are past purchase history (47%) and gender (37%).

And there you have it: when the magic curtain is lifted, the public is mighty unimpressed.

Adtech’s defenders usually trot out the line that adtech has an image problem. They’re wrong. It doesn’t have an image problem so much as a behaviour one.

Uh oh, even more ‘woke’ Cannes

It’s been a few years since Cannes headed off down the path marked ‘Woke’. Now it’s just got a bit ‘wokier’.

The evidence: an instruction from the high-ups to this year’s juries to punish (i.e. deny an award) any ads that perpetuate negative stereotypes or inequalities.

This, apparently, is (in its own words) part of Cannes’ mission to “celebrate creativity that changes the world for the better”.

FFS. Why can’t it just celebrate great creativity?’s just infuriating.

1. Cannes is the closest thing that adland has to ‘art’. Other arts prizes, like the Oscars, the Booker or the Turner, don’t impose subjective, woolly criteria on their judges, and they would be diminished if they did.

2. How do you define negative stereotyping and inequalities? Many cases are obvious, but at the margins they aren’t, especially in an advertising context where (as with art) local or national cultural norms come into play. One juror’s stereotyping is another’s acceptable; what one might take as humour, another might take literally.

Not that it will win anything (fingers crossed, anyway), but where does Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be" fit into this? Many men objected to the stereotyping.

And in this Heineken ad from a few years ago, which gender is being stereotyped? And if you think one is, is it a) negative b) objectionable or c) funny?

3. What kind of judge wants to have to kowtow to the thought police? Good judges, which Cannes ones usually are, are independent minded. I hope the juries stick two fingers up to Cannes and do their own thing.

4. Most marketers don’t deliberately set out to alienate consumers or target audiences anyway, not just because it’s right, but because it makes commercial sense. Let the marketplace or the court of public opinion decide.

5. By seeking to reward virtue over value, Cannes is undermining its role. As long as they follow ASA or national equivalent rules, ads should be treated at Cannes as ads, not pieces of social engineering.

6. As they say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

On those cheery notes, enjoy the four day week.

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NickDrew, CEO, Fuse Insights on 24 Apr 2019
“"Adtech has an image problem" is such an odd concern. The research is the equivalent of deconstructing a diesel engine, then putting it back together and saying "consumers don't seem any more impressed with this Ford Ka than before we showed them the engine - clearly we have an engine image problem". And just like cars, the value of adtech is in the outcomes, not in how impressed people are with the machinery.

>FFS. Why can’t it just celebrate great creativity?’s just infuriating.
Preach! More thought suggests that with a properly diverse jury, campaigns pushing egregious stereotypes aren't likely to win anyway, as they wouldn't win over enough judges. Of course if such a campaign did win, it would reflect badly on the Cannes jury - so far easier to install a (vague) blanket rule...”
MikeShaw, VP, International, dataxu on 23 Apr 2019
“As more advertising is delivered digitally across an expanding array of screens and radio (Spotify?) waves, the ability to leverage technology to understand identity is adding a new set of capabilities for advertisers and their agencies. It doesn’t compromise the ability to deploy amazing creative, nor does it necessarily shift budgets away from proven and effective media like television – see the rise of connected and addressable offerings from major broadcasters. What it should allow for is better reach & frequency management, and the ability to better attribute outcomes back to genuinely contributing advertising. These are core tenets of the advertising world that have existed since before the birth of the original Cannes festival. IMHO, arguably the Ad Tech industry’s failure is to relate technology capabilities back to these core tenets versus promising a radical new world that almost nobody understands.”
ChrisArnold, ECD, Creative Orchestra on 23 Apr 2019
“The Adtech industry is not living in the real world. In fact it is based upon a massive assumption. It’s obsession with the individual clashes with the beliefs of many consumer psychologists that we are often buying within consumer communities (group think).This is especially apparent with younger consumers - the influence of the community is greater than ads. To be ”relevant” you need to understand which mindset the consumer is in and therefore which consumer community is influencing the purchase. We can all move between one community and another meaning we are multi-faced consumers not singular in our approach.”