When Will Big Ad Tech Innovation Yield To Incremental Improvements?

jayfriedmannewData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Jay Friedman, chief operating officer at Goodway Group.

We’re addicted to what’s new and shiny. A breaking news alert may flash across the screen and, despite knowing the alert is likely not newsworthy, we turn our heads in anticipation.

Over the past few years, most of the major innovations and discussions in ad tech have centered around viewability and fraud. While header bidding might be the most impactful invention, it’s too complicated to get most CMOs involved in the discussion. So when we see headlines around viewability and fraud – over and over and over – some may make the leap and ask if everything that will be invented has already been invented in ad tech. The answer is, “No, but …”

There is still plenty of room for big innovation. Programmatic TV is in the horse-and-buggy stage. Terrestrial radio is in the horse-and-no-buggy stage. Today’s demand-side platforms are the Model T of the eventual omnichannel media hub.

In our desire for the next big thing, though, we’re overlooking powerful incremental improvements that will mean far more to us in the next five years than any single big innovation.

Innovating by leaps and bounds is easy in any early technology, just like it’s easy to grow sales 10,000% when first-year sales were only $1,000. The first automobile wheels were wooden. The leaps in technology that led to the wheels and tires we have today would now require a Ph.D. to find further improvements. While these incremental improvements today aren’t leaps, they’re still valuable.

As we look at ad tech, there are still areas where we need extended incremental improvement. Improving each of these areas by 30% to 50% in the next five years is doable and would be a boon for the marketing and ad industries.

Fully Closed-Loop Purchase Tracking

Tracking online purchases is pretty easy. Even tracking many offline sales is doable today, but how much more adoption could and should we have?

Beyond incremental improvements that will cover today’s unmeasurable offline tracking, just raising adoption of offline tracking in general will propel us forward significantly.


Sorry, I’ll make it quick.

We’re just finally starting to see real data around viewability. Now that we better understand its impact, buyers and sellers can work together to discuss how user experience site changes aimed at 100% viewability will impact marketer spend commitments. I see all major publishers making user-interface and experience improvements to enable significantly better viewability within three years.


Sorry again, but this is actually pretty important.

Fraud is a real problem. It morphs, doesn’t ever die and I don’t believe we can eradicate it outright. In my conversations with peers in the industry over the past three months, we’ve each found ways to reduce our suspicious traffic by multiple whole percentage points.

Significant innovation is only applicable in the beginning for the bad guys, too. They will continue to innovate incrementally but I believe three years from now we will see most major marketers dealing with smaller levels of fraud than exist today.


While the major headlines of the last few years focused on viewability and fraud, I’m shocked that even directional attribution isn’t used by every marketer. Research has shown that last-ad-seen and last-click attribution can be more damaging to a campaign’s optimization efforts than texting – or drinkingwhile driving. Even directional full-path attribution would create significant incremental improvement for marketers.

Programmatic Progress

Regardless of the outcome of the scenario created by header bidding, more inventory being biddable, reservable and buyable programmatically creates performance advantages for marketers. I’m not talking about long-tail RTB, but instead being able to buy and optimize all digital – and eventually all media – in an automated fashion is certain to improve end results for marketers.

Making Big Data Into Little Data

We love our big data stories, but big data isn’t directly actionable by the front-line agency and marketer employees that need to take campaign learnings and optimize real world outcomes. We have a long way to go still in extracting even a “good” level of insights from the vast amount of data we produce and consume today.


The amount of data we have on mobile users and the ability to track success within mobile still isn’t where it is with desktop, yet mobile is becoming more important than desktop. Incremental improvements in how we can target, measure and analyze results from mobile will significantly help marketers boost their return on ad spend.

I’ve attended 100 meetings with agencies where they ask, “What do you have that’s new and different? My client can’t just keep seeing the same stuff over and over.”

This leads reps to say things like, “Well, we just partnered with a drone company that is doing top-of-the-head recognition to attribute in-store visits to all pre-roll. It even works when users wear a hat!”

My advice to marketers and agencies is to ask about what’s new and on the horizon, but to focus first and extracting the greatest amount of value from existing media plans. Far too many dollars today are significantly underoptimized compared to their potential. This is the real opportunity.

Follow Jay Friedman (@jaymfriedman) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Yep. I might have titled this differently, as it’s not the innovation that would/should yield. Some people add value to the things they sell, and others just sell things. The thing is, there are unfortunately still a lot of the latter that won’t lift a finger beyond the contract. There are also too many advertisers out there that aren’t asking the right questions.

    To the tech note, if you popped open a glossary of broadcast terms from 10 (maybe 20?) years ago, buyers could still use it today. We’re not going to stop selling shiny things until tech stops rapidly evolving, and we don’t even have flying cars yet (grrr). Possibly the strongest force that will drive the industry toward the approach you’re suggesting is simply more informed clients as decision maker roles transition to a more web-savvy generation.