Opinion

The ghost of prediction pieces past reveals our crystal balls are broken

The 2018 prediction pieces are flowing, but has anyone stopped to consider if any of the industry's past predictions were correct? Rubicon Project's Rohan Creasey looks back to the future.

We’re steaming towards the pointy end of the year and that means it is predictions time – in all their repetitive and predictable joy. Heck I’ve probably been just as guilty on this front as others, at least in private discussions, but this year instead I thought it would be worthwhile reflecting on previous industry predictions.

While we get excited about all the shiny things that might be coming (and we should), when you look back at previous predictions it seems there are a few fundamental Christmas predictions that haven’t quite transpired.

Let’s start with a Christmas prediction elephant in the room. Transparency. It’s been a regular inclusion at the top of prediction lists for consecutive years, but sadly a number of players are still dragging their feet in their bid to achieve complete transparency. Marketers want transparency. They demand transparency.

Photo by Heather Zabriskie on Unsplash

And yet, non-transparent platforms continue to be used, continue to be chosen. Advertisers want to know how and where their budgets are being spent, which partners are being used and what percentage of advertising spend is consumed by fees vs inventory. For the needle to shift on transparency, marketers need to put their money where their mouth is and only spend with technology providers that are completely transparent on every decision point. I suspect such a firm line would sharply flush out those who aren’t on board with transparency.

As a side note, and I’m sure Chris Freel would love this idea, I’d like to instigate an industry fine in the form of a donation payable to UnLtd, our industry’s social purpose organisation, whenever someone on the sell-side erroneously uses the word transparent.

Another topic that has been lingering on the predictions lists for some time is the increased adoption of server-side technologies. Progress has been made over the past twelve months with the number of leading US websites using server-side bidding increasing by 50%. The long-touted benefits for publishers and advertisers have lived up to expectations – lowering latency, increasing efficiency and most importantly providing a better experience for consumers. However, key issues remain.

Users are harder to identify – and therefore monetise as efficiently – server-side, and while a common user identifier (more on that later) will be a catalyst to server-side adoption, it’s worth noting that there’s often more hurdles on the journey to utopia that many folks may not have considered.

Collectively, we need more education and a deeper understanding of the solutions we’re moving towards, as well as their roadblocks. Simply put, more groundwork is required before we can realise the benefits of many solutions, server-side being just one example.

Then there’s the enormous ghost that’s haunted many Christmas past predictions – tech consolidation. You only have to look at Denise Shrivell’s Mediscapes to get an understanding of the hundreds of players in both the adtech and martech space in Australia. We’re well past the boom of new business start-ups and finally the realisation that there are too many fish in this digital sea has begun to sink in.

This is one prediction from the past which is starting to right itself. Natural attrition and acquisitions are on the rise, with some large deals including AT&T’s purchase of AppNexus and Sizmek taking on Rocket Fuel. Consolidation will certainly make the advertiser’s life easier. Only the cream will rise to the top, making vendors more accountable and improving the reputation of the industry.

One of the newer, but still unfulfilled predictions is that of the Universal ID. A solution should be in place by now for three key reasons.

Firstly, cross-device measurement is an ongoing pain point for marketers. Walled gardens are a second headache for marketers, preventing them from connecting data dots between silos and hindering their ability to accurately track a consumer’s journey.

Finally, universal IDs are the grease that will oil the shift to server-side. And yet – progress towards adoption has been slow. Wrangling publishers, tech providers and advertisers towards a solution is no easy feat, but we need to put the consumer and industry first and commit our best collaborative efforts.

And the last of the prediction ‘ghosts’ is mobile. It’s been the year of mobile for nearly as long as I’ve owned a phone. While it’s off the prediction lists of late, that’s not because it’s solved; it’s still fraught with issues, particularly in the measurement space.

The latest IAB and PwC Online Advertising Expenditure Report stated that mobile advertising has increased by $1 billion over the last year, a whopping 38.5% increase year on year. With those kinds of dollars being spent, it is mind-blowing that we still don’t have a clear success metric, let alone an attribution method in place. A hard conversation needs to be had as an industry to work out what success looks like on this platform for marketers.

Reflecting on these predictions of Christmas past, it seems to me that as an industry, while we should be excited about the possibilities of new technologies, we must be more realistic about just how long it takes our ecosystem to catch up and how much commitment is involved from all parties.

Perhaps we can put the lag down to the pace of technology change or perhaps it’s self-interest that slows progress and adoption. Wherever your views lie, there’s no doubt that many in our industry aren’t across these old predictions and yet we are already moving into new territory. How to solve this dilemma is a literal million-dollar question, but I believe it’s as simple as education and collaboration. I’m in for both.

Maybe we can learn from some ghosts in 2019 through teaching, rather than telling, and alignment for the benefit of the industry rather than for self-interest. Now that would be some Christmas spirit. I will be doing my bit in 2019 – will you?

Rohan Creasey is Rubicon Project country manager at ANZ.

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