What AdTech Can Learn From Bitcoin

Advertising is undergoing a fundamental rethinking. Over the last decade, a set of radical technologies have ushered in massive waves of transformation in the publishing and advertising businesses. New revenue sources for content creation and opportunities to reach audiences in completely new ways have brought fourth many new technologies. That is where most of the focus has been. Given the technology the media industry has in place today, what would we come up with if we started from a clean slate? We are living through that moment in our industry. We are having a “Facebook” innovation moment because of a “Bitcoin” disruption.

The evolution of technology in advertising is shifting because of a focus on new areas of innovation. The last wave of advertising innovation focused on bringing advertising from the old manual-space into a machine-automated environment. But, the processes that we automated were originally designed to be done by people. Now that a majority of processes originally designed for manual human-driven tasks have been automated, the focus of innovation is about optimizing the system in its current state. It’s like the leap from email to social media. Email is just an electronic letter while social media is a communication innovation that could only exist because we have the internet. The “Facebook” innovation.

The technology space in which advertising operates today is very different than a decade ago. But like advertising, the financial ecosystem has also changed so much in the last decade. Innovation now focuses on things that you simply couldn’t do without computers, as opposed to computers being automaters of human tasks. The new space of innovation is focused on a better understanding of a network of advertising transactions. Now that innovators can examine the network, they are rethinking its fundamental parts. In finance, technologists rethought the entire idea of money. Rethinking fundamental parts of the system is where real innovation is happening today. The “Bitcoin” disruption.

We can draw a parallel to money. Money was originally made of a precious metal, to carry its own value. Then paper money was invented, physical value was uncoupled from the currency. Then checks, physical representations of money. Then credit cards, which are debts that represent future checks. Today, bitcoin. Bitcoin is a purely mathematical representation of money, it uncouples money from the government or country whose currency it represents. There is no such thing as a physical bitcoin, it is not issued by any government or body, and it’s just data. To put that in perspective, Satoshi Nakamoto invented a way to move and store value, Bitcoin, that innovated on the invention of fiat currency in China over a thousand years ago. All that happened because of the technology network underpinning finance.

So what does that mean for advertising technology? It means that we need to start being mindful of rethinking the most fundamental ways in which the business works. Should we be buying impressions? Should we be buying GRP? or should we be buying something else? Now that the industry has so much technology built-in, what can we do now that we simply couldn’t do a decade ago? The answer is the way supply and demand get defined, measured, and are made to meet.