Artisanal Adtech

What can advertising learn from the craft beer movement?

All beer used to vaguely resemble the urine we excrete after consuming it. It was fully commoditized into a uniformly unpalatable product that was differentiated by brand labeling but not by any other qualities. It had no flavor but it got you drunk. It was cheap but ultimately was not meeting a broader set of consumer needs. It was just meeting an industries’ need, to have something to connect to the tap or put on the shelf with enough profit margin to justify the trouble.

Then micro-brews appeared, where the advancements of factory beer’s industrial sanitation and process efficiencies trickled down into a back-to-basics movement. It turned out that legal drinkers actually did appreciate flavor, quality, variety, and the craft that goes into fermented bread water. Craft beer now outsells Budweiser and the major multinational brewers have been purchasing microbrews as fast we can keep turning their swill into piss.

Meanwhile, adtech, the hidden network of automated trading desks that pepper our pages with crappy ads is on the verge of self-induced collapse. People are quickly awakening to see this scourge for what it is. This technology has industrially refined digital ads into spam or in its worse possible form, vectors for spyware and malware.

Publishers have exclaimed they would prefer to protect their readers’ privacy instead of intrusively tracking their browsing habits and leaking data all over the place. The premium publishers earn revenue in the single digits for this behavioral advertising, so they could help kill it tomorrow and live another day. But adtech is an all-or-nothing proposition, and this is what’s really harming the publishing industry from adblocking. You either kill all the ads or none of the ads and kill your data privacy and security instead.

Advertising agencies have started to decide that it’s not in their clients’ brand interest to target people who use adblockers. The thinking is these brand messages are unwelcome and so they will only do harm even though the adblocking demographic is among the most desirable. We have reached the point in this sudsy metaphor where the bars and the grocery stores no longer want to only stock the panther-piss. Their customers are demanding a better product and the adblocking adoption is the proof.

There is a stark and immediate need for artisanal adtech, a collective of ad networks that only serve ethical, traceable, fair-trade, fraud-free, privacy-positive, agency-to-page ads that restore the importance of art and design in advertising. There’s a micro-brew ad network out there already and its model needs to be proliferated to other audience segmentations. It doesn’t need to track in order to target. But its ads fall victim to the indiscriminate weaponization of blocking despite its earnest honesty.

Once the artisanal adtech movement has a critical mass, a craft ad blocker can emerge that only allows the good ads. Then publishers can encourage or even require people to use it. Agencies can buy into it reaching coveted audiences that will actively engage with artisanal adtech and then “organic ads” will compete with factory-farmed ads at the consumer level. It will be more expensive to buy and sell artisanal adtech but quality, profit, and consumer satisfaction will soar.

De-industrialize to de-commoditize to de-weaponize.