It’s Time to Come Clean About Something

October 2, 2019 — by Joe Zawadzki    

I believe in the power of advertising to drive economic growth, to fund free content and press, to change hearts and minds, to do good. I’ve dedicated my adult life to enabling it by bringing mathematics, automation, and logic to its execution.

But after years of listening to iconic brands like P&G demand we clean up the media supply chain, hearing content owners’ cries for help go ignored by the behemoths, and acknowledging the consumer experience is suboptimal, it’s time industry leaders, including myself, assume some responsibility in the actual mess-making and return to first principles to build something better.

As the first DSP to create the market 12 years ago, we helped shape both the technical infrastructure and the commercial terms upon which every buy-side and sell-side player now transacts. Back then, digital had made a whole bunch of promises. It promised to grow and deepen brands’ direct customer relationships. It promised to manage the mundane so human creativity could be unleashed. And it promised to be the most measurable marketing medium ever.

We’ve failed. We created a series of unintended consequences that overshadow the benefits of a technology-enabled marketing approach, and don’t reflect our values.

And instead of brands and content owners being able to focus on growing and deepening direct customer relationships, much of their time is sucked up by the operational and service burdens of a broken ecosystem.

We aren’t the only industry that has evolved without purposeful design. Industrial agriculture is one obvious example. Intentions were all in the right place, but before we knew it, an industry that set out to literally grow food to nourish people is being called out for causing more harm than good. Processing to keep food on the shelf longer also removes nutrients. Responding to market trends in replacing fats with sugar leads to obesity and diabetes. Mass production techniques cause environmental harm.

Sure enough, a subset of industrial agriculture decided to solve the very problem it had created, and the “farm-to-table” movement was born. Farm-to-table has transformed consumer behavior everywhere. From “grown local” and organics at your big-box grocery stores and DTC consumer kits delivered to your doorstep, to farmers markets and farm-to-table chefs and owners, many consumers are making a choice to put food on the table that comes directly from a source they can trust.

So too can a cleaner supply chain fuel growth and health for brands and content owners and, in turn, incentivize a healthier digital ecosystem for everyone. To work for demand, you need media accountability and stronger audience addressability with a better understanding of consumers. Getting media and identity right, and together, creates stronger return on investment—less waste, better relevance—and lowers the level of effort to attain those results.

To date, the industry hasn’t been able to make this happen—to create an accountable, addressable, transparent supply chain that is more aligned to brands’ and content creators’ interests—because we haven’t mobilized an ecosystem to make it happen.

Building on the partnerships and technical work we announced in Cannes, I’m excited to share that as of today, that ecosystem is coming together. We now have a clean environment, one that surfaces previously hidden transaction costs and fees and clearly reflects the value of each impression. We’ve also modernized both the “terms of trade” and the pipes on which it operates.

We’re calling this evolved ecosystem SOURCE by MediaMath.

There are really two grounding principles and specific standards that shape the ecosystem we are all building together: accountable and addressable.

Accountable means: real impressions on real content properties. Said another way, a transparent, fraud-free supply chain with trusted content owners that gives brands full visibility into supply path mechanics and costs, makes the commercial terms between all of the important roles and players in this market both current and future-proofed, and defines technical standards that improve how every piece of advertising functions.

Addressable means: real humans you can reach with real ads, at scale. Said another way, a single view of who your customers and prospects are—and the ability to access more of these audiences—across desktop, mobile, and TV through a consistent, portable user-level ID, prioritizing privacy and consumer respect first and foremost. Connecting the data throughout the supply chain allows content owners and advertisers to more effectively communicate their asks and transparently agree on goals.

Brands are asking for digital marketing to perform, to put a dollar in and have full transparency across all partner fees and be able to prove the investment is warranted with multiples of that investment returned.

Content owners want to be compensated for the audience they build and maintain in a fair and transparent way.

Everyone also wants to know that the media they are financing is good for society. Context and consumers matter.

We are just getting started at starting over, and it’s far bigger than a product or MediaMath.

We have a lot to do! Is a personalized but respectful creative experience what we want as people? Can brands measure their marketing inputs, and know who and what to invest in to drive their true business goals? Until the answer to both of these questions is a unanimous yes, are we too obsessed with the collection of data and optimization around individual companies as opposed to the collective whole? I think yes.

But getting to the other side requires that we fix the infrastructure on which it is built. So, first things first. Let’s fix the connection between brands and people across digital devices. And let’s not be passive, and let’s not say it’s someone else’s problem. Let’s set a deadline—end of 2020. Let’s rally to make it more than talking points. And let’s prove that it works better as a more durable connection. It’s time to move forward.

Joe Zawadzki

After a decade representing buyers at top-tier agencies and Fortune 500 companies, Joe Zawadzki saw the need to reshape the online marketing landscape by integrating technology, data, analytics, and marketing best practices into a single media platform. He founded MediaMath in 2007, launching a technological revolution with the first demand side platform (DSP) and today, the MediaMath Marketing Operating System, TerminalOne, powers the marketing practice of more than 3,500 brands. Joe holds several patents in the area of online methods for dynamic segmentation and content presentation. He is a graduate of Harvard University and was a Teaching Fellow in cosmology, set theory and the history of science. He lives in New York City with his wife, Daria, and their children Dune and Jack, born on the summer and winter solstices respectively.