Top seven digital fairy tales no one will believe anymore in 2019

For the last ten years or so, adtech boldly promised advertisers they can reach digital audiences more precisely and with greater accountability than ever before. These adtech fairy tales had advertisers flocking to their SaaS platforms very quickly and in great numbers. But after many painful experiences, marketers understood that many adtech fairy tale promises are just not believable.

These are the top seven digital fairy tales that will, rightly and finally, die in 2019.

  1. “Marketing automation automates marketing.”

Many articles have been written about the challenges of marketing automation like this Ad Age Article, “Beware the Siren Song of Marketing Automation.”

The central issue is that marketing automation over promises in its ability to create wonderful user experiences since, in fact, these platforms mainly automate fragmented marketing tasks i.e. email or landing page development. This falls far short of linking the tasks into a holistic user engagement journey. This fairy tale was so seductive to companies early on that now they are heavily invested in marketing automation — automation gaps and all. This is why smart money is moving from marketing automation technology to acquisition-centric tech stacks. Results trumps automation any day.

2) “The media and message are optimized if they are managed separately.”

The current separation of media and creative agency functions is grounded in false promises made by Demand Side Platform (DSP) vendors that their “set it ‘n forget it” automation technology does the heavy lifting of media buying requiring lower labor than creative. Therefore, the thinking goes, it is best to manage each function individually to be the most budget efficient.

This line of thinking doesn’t hold true in many cases because it doesn’t account for the labor-intensive nature of managing DSPs requiring expert interactions between the technical buying and creative elements to optimize results. Separating media and creative functions sub-optimizes campaigns because this structure undermines the ability to integrate the data between creative and media efficiently to fully optimize results.

3) “Facebook is a ‘must do’ in our advertising plan.”

A year ago, Facebook would be a “given” in any media plan but today, Brands are actively looking for ways to diversify their social and media activities off of Facebook — from branded video streaming to advertising. The reason is the pragmatic reality that Facebook struggles to deliver conversion for many advertisers. The days when Facebook was guaranteed to be on every media plan are done and done.

4) “Cookie-based targeting is highly effective in digital.”

Cookie-based advertising, such as retargeting and cross device targeting, were the darlings of digital because it worked. Yet, its effectiveness is quickly fading between ad blocking, GDPR and the prevailing banner blindness that affects all digital advertising. The trends are shifting to contextual targeting as the answer but (wait for it) that’s easier said than done as I explain in the next point.

5) “We are getting contextual ad placement in our digital media plan.”

The growing consensus is that contextual advertising creates a better user experience. The problem is that media buying vendors and DSPs promise contextual advertising but don’t deliver anything resembling what anyone would define as contextual advertising where the ad and the content are directly related.

The contextual fairy tale promises made by DSPs avoid the truth that real contextual targeting isn’t happening because technically, all leading DSPs deploy one of two prevailing methods; both of which have significant limitations.

The first option is keyword matching in programmatic media. This method fails if a word has multiple meanings, like the keyword bank making it likely an ad will be placed on the wrong contextual pages like those talking about “blood banks” or “West Bank.” White lists can reduce mismatch incidences some but it still lacks nuanced contextual matching capability.

The second option is “Interest or Topic Targeting.” Technically, this uses the platform’s predefined topic data structure so that all web pages where ads can be placed are pre-classified into static interest classifications; music, news, sports, cooking etc. The obvious gap is that most advertisers don’t fit neatly into predefined categories, like a company selling “farm drones.” The other issue is that DSPs use a static topic-data base which doesn’t reflect new interest topics like Cannabis. These limitations have profound negative impacts on acquisition centric marketers, especially eCommerce, B2B and direct-to-consumer marketers.

The contextual gaps of Demand Side Platforms have a darker side too. Financially, buying platforms are incentivized to require advertisers to target topics broadly forcing them to buy lots of contextually irrelevant impressions that would be avoided if there were true contextual targeting.

As this fairy tale dies, many marketers are exploring smaller niche, topic based programmatic networks like Monumetric versus buying contextual advertising via the mega buying platforms.

6) “Ad Tech automation technology means corporate in-sourcing is a good idea.”

The potential cost savings of in-sourcing makes this question inevitable so it’s no surprise, therefore, that programmatic media buying is the in-sourced “flavor of the month.”

Unfortunately, SaaS platform vendors create false expectations that labor costs are reduced with in-sourcing. This obscures the truth that there are huge technical and labor costs required to manage a complex buying platforms. To be sure, some of the largest companies can make a case for it but by and large most advertisers are simply ill equipped to manage it with quality long-term.

7) “Investing in more ad tech will increase ROI.”

There is an epic battle brewing between marketing automation platforms and advertising platforms because they are both fighting for the larger share of the same marketing budgets. To win, adtech vendors are morphing to use automation to coordinate marketing activities and marketing automation is looking to envelop digital advertising buying within its domains. This leaves advertisers overwhelmed with a messy overlap of features and data between modules even within the same automation platform. Sadly, this makes it even harder (if that were possible) to determine marketing ROI. Marketers are realizing that sometimes less is more — especially in martech and adtech until this situation stabilizes. A newer option that is coming online now are ROI-centric, single supply chain platforms that link creative, buying, modeling and acquisition within a unified solution. An example is Organic Search Advertising from engageSimply, which I am proud to shamelessly plug as this is our firm’s flagship solution.

The gilding has come off the adtech rose and savvy marketers now see it for what it — a potential great enabler that’s no silver bullet to cure all marketing’s ills. Yet with skill and artistry, adtech can be game changing for 2019 if we really are ready to let go of early adtech fairy tales and get real.

Happy 2019.

May your 2019 marketing sparkle!