Build A Wall — For The Third Garden
by Ted McConnell, Featured Contributor, March 16, 2017
Two walled gardens own 82% of the online advertising business. There is Facebook: like Gramercy Park, locked up tight, but contextually one-dimensional. There’s Google: like the Bronx Zoo, with a small fence around the whole thing, and lots of little cages holding species as diverse as search, ad serving, and video publishing.
Then there is everything else — that is the Third Garden. We sometimes call it the ecosystem, or the open Web. But it’s a Third Garden. Like a national forest, it doesn’t have a wall.
There are little walled gardens within, but the ecosystem’s organic wildness and diversity yield surprises good and bad, from Wikipedia to bots (like ants).
The Third Garden is the vast majority of the Internet. Virtually every person on the planet goes there every day. Talk about audiences; it’s got ‘em. The ability to watch people behave in this diverse environment creates insights marketers never dreamed of, and context opportunities that can fit any product perfectly.
The Third Garden has scale. Big demand-side platforms see 90% global reach every day! That would be awesome except for a) fraud, b) invalid traffic, c) bots, and d) fragmented measurement and accounting. A wall, (and gate) can be constructed to fix most of this, if only occupants of the forest will get along for a minute. Chinese proverb: The shrike hunting the locust is unaware of the hawk hunting him.
Publishers will further suffer at the hands of the duopoly unless they ban together behind a wall. That’s governance. It’s a viable strategy for a thousand Davids facing two Goliaths.
Some blame programmatic technology for the problems of Internet advertising, but Facebook and Google use all the same basic technology.
The difference is, they have a wall. Here is how we might build one for the Third Garden.
Only audited publishers. Create a system where advertisers can bid context and audience, with viewability and “human” as a given. It’s a club. Publishers can join — but only if they conform to auditable rules. Converge all Third Garden publishers into a single pipe that any buying platform can access. This could be an exchange —or, cheaper, a system of header bidding. And don’t leave out the long tail; that robs the Garden of its main strength.
A simple, reliable, valid, universal currency, measured in census. Make human/viewable the currency. Why? Because that’s what the customer wants. The Media Rating Council (MRC) eschews “human” in favor of “invalid traffic” but that’s the difference between “treatment” and “wellness.” Advertisers want to expose actual people to their messages, so measure that.
Foolproof measurement. Create a panel against which the MRC can approve measurement tags that measure bots and viewability. Today, the MRC approves a tag if it measures viewability, but variances are huge. Simply, it’s not currency-ready because of inconsistent measurement. There is no truth set for actual tag performance against real-world media.
This would cost money to build, and the industry should pay the MRC to do it.
Develop a simple shared counting system for behind-the-wall participants. Allow all currency-certified tags to count human-viewable impression by posting in real time to a server of record, encrypted, when they see that an ad has been viewed by a human. We use servers of record today, but they count ads rendered, not in view by real people.
Trace the supply chain. Make all intermediaries inform the tag of the source of the inventory at bid-win time. This way, the server of record can carry the complete path of the impression through the supply chain.
Enable selected, controlled access of currency data by advertisers. Facebook does this today, and the data even includes pricing! Allow any party to a transaction to have access to campaign data from the server of record.
All this stuff is doable — but not simple. It all requires collective action. This plan will enable quality advertising, capitalize on diversity of contexts, save publishers from being squashed by the duopoly, thwart fraudsters, make buying in scale simpler, and keep trash out of our lovely national forest.
The market share of the Third Garden is now 18% and shrinking, and advertisers have had it. At the same time, Marc Pritchard’s calls for transparency (now widely published) are reasonable bedrock: Sell me impressions viewed by people, and simplify buying.
We know what’s needed. Now all we have to do is match it with what’s possible.