A “Howard Zinn” History of AdTech

Pre-2007: Glory Days

Official Story: Doubleclick rises to prominence and ad servers offer the promise of unrivaled ad tracking and attribution. Ad Networks allow advertisers to reach targeted audiences at scale.

Unofficial Story: Free money with no accountability. Adware, toolbars and Right Media. Speaking of which, how exactly would you describe Right Media? Was it an “exchange”? Or was it more like a real world embodiment of the sci-fi movie “Sphere”(where once an impression went into it, you never really knew what happened to it)?

2008–10: The Rise of Ad Network Optimization

Official Story: Maximize revenue for publishers.

Unofficial Story: The proliferation of weight loss and acne ads because SSPs need to show value (aka “lift”). Geo-targeting away from ad operations people monitoring ad quality…pinnacle of sophistication.

2010–2012: Real Time Bidding

Official Story: A real-time ecosystem that creates an efficient market between publishers and advertisers.

Unofficial story: All right, this was a pretty big deal, so no need to be too cynical here. But let’s go for it anyway: Browser plug-ins can scale revenue because their SiteID parameter looks nice and no one cares about where the traffic is really coming from (see Jambreel). Remember this is before Ads.txt.

2012–2014: Mobile Mania

Official Story: Smartphone and tablet usage will enable advertisers to connect users across devices.

Unofficial story: Cell carriers and savvy marketers collect a windfall by driving “content subscriptions” because no other advertisers can justify a high enough CPM for mobile ads (i.e. they don’t work). App Install affiliates make dough because no one cares about LTV metrics. How is that cross device connection coming, anyway? Ahh yes, the ole probabilistic vs deterministic nob where you can adjust the accuracy of your audience like the audio volume in your car. Mmhmm…sure bro.

2015: Native & Programmatic Direct

Official Story: Streamlining the direct buying process and new ad formats will revolutionize digital media buying.

Unofficial Story: Umm..no. Content arb and Taboola = gimme that loot.

2016-Present: Header Bidding & OTT

Official Story: Header bidding eliminates ad serving inefficiency, increases “fairness” for SSP buyers, and increases publisher revenue. OTT poised to be next big wave of ad spend.

Unofficial Story: Header bidding = Meta Ad Network Optimization (shouldn’t DFP exchange bidding have solved this?). Excuse me, while I pre-cache a large number of ads and then turn all my content into a slideshow. OTT has a lot of promise, but no ad tech platforms are making much money.

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