We’ve written a lot about blockchain, the technology that makes Bitcoin possible without any centralized authority. The underlying theme has been its tremendous potential to impact our industry. However, there’s a catch: You should probably understand how blockchain works first.
AdLedger, a non-profit consortium building and implementing blockchain standards for digital advertising, is dedicated to making that happen, along with IBM and Salon Media. The three companies have teamed up for a shared ledger to bring 100% transparency to advertising, beginning with education.
“We’ve got super smart people leading the biggest companies in the industry, but they’re not engineers,” explains Christiana Cacciapuoti, Executive Director of AdLedger. “We’re trying to give our members hands-on experience with blockchain. And we’re making sure they know exactly what it is—in plain English—and how they can apply it.”
The genesis of the project
The inspiration for the partnership was partially a desire to improve transparency, fraud protection and brand safety in ad-tech. The other aspect centers on helping companies make informed decisions about how to implement that. Salon Media’s goal is to take back control over publisher inventory. Meanwhile, IBM aims to learn how to play the role of technology provider and advertiser.
The partnership was in the works long before Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill, but Cacciapuoti draws a parallel from his recent court appearance. The awkwardness of his questioning has since gone viral.
“It was so painful to watch because these senators are trying to legislate this huge, important thing they ultimately don’t know anything about,” she says. “It highlighted what a great opportunity we have to put forward education materials, which we’re working on now.”
IBM is also using its Blockchain Platform to ensure quality in the global food supply chain. Walmart is already on board, as are several other major grocery and CPG brands including Unilever, Nestlé and Kroger.
Do marketers need to understand how blockchain works?
Jeremy Epstein, CEO of Never Stop Marketing, understands the value of the ledger. But he wonders if that much education is really necessary.
“I went through dot-com, I went through social and now I’m in crypto. I’ve seen this movie,” he explains. “My experience in the early stages is that people can get caught up in ‘Look how cool this technology is.’ And it is! But do you care about SMTP? No, you just care that you can send emails.”
To Epstein, it’s less important that marketers understand how blockchain works, just as long as they know it works. He’s more concerned with evangelizing the technology and making sure marketers understand its value. One value he points out is reducing the number of intermediaries and billable hours common in agencies.
“By participating in this decentralized, software-based network, you’re a participant, rather than paying someone to do everything for you,” says Epstein. “You have confidence in your data, knowing it hasn’t been scrubbed six times by different people in the agency.”
Evangelism through education
The partnership’s goals are ease of use, and revealing inefficiencies and reconciling campaign data more quickly. Though Cacciapuoti and Epstein have differing views on the necessity of blockchain education, in a way, they still agree.
Epstein doesn’t think marketers need to know the nuts and bolts, just that blockchain has value. Cacciapuoti believes that education is the first step, that understanding the mechanics of blockchain illuminates that value.
“How can we implement this technology to cause a seismic shift in the industry?” she asks. “It’s about being creative to reconstruct the supply chain using blockchain so we’re implementing it in a really thoughtful and creative way.”