And now a new ad-focused blockchain consortium is launching this month by heavyweights IBM — through its iX digital agency — and advertising software provider MediaOcean. It already counts ad giants Unilever, Pfizer, Kimberly-Clark, Kellogg and IBM Watson Advertising among its inaugural participants.
The as-yet-unnamed consortium, announced last month at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, is powered by the blockchain protocol developed by IBM and made open source with Hyperledger. The blockchain environment will be built on Mediaocean’s campaign management platform, which already handles more than $140 billion in annual ad spending.
The idea is that every step of an ad campaign — including purchase order and media execution — is recorded to blockchain, offering transactional breadcrumbs that are immediately distributed to all participants that have access to a node, and that, for all practical purposes, are immutable.
But while transparency is a key aspect of the project, iX Executive Partner Babs Rangaiah told me, the key driver on the project is reconciliation.
At his former employer Unilever, he said, reconciliation of ad campaigns was “a nightmare.” Data on delivery, viewability and other metrics came in from multiple sources during and after campaigns and often differed from each other. When settlement was made, it might be made at the end of a month or the end of a campaign, so refunds or “makegood” free placements might come too late to have any value.
‘Capturing the buy’
To address the issue of reconciliation, he said, iX began last year a blockchain-based “minimally viable project” with Unilever, which resulted in a blueprint and a functioning environment.
That endeavor, however, was focused around non-real-time insert orders, while this new consortium is intended to work with programmatic, real-time bidding environments. To date, no blockchain project currently handles real-time bidding speeds, but Rangaiah said this consortium will do that, in part by focusing on recording transactional events — “capturing the buy” — but not yet payments. Reconciliation will happen daily, slower than real-time bidding transactions but faster than conventional reconciliation.
Planning for this build will begin at the end of this month, he said, with a launch and participation by at least the five initial clients in Q4. The five, he said, will run their entire digital ad campaigns through the IBM/Mediaocean blockchain environment.
While others are also attempting to address transparency, permanent and distributed recording, and reconciliation using blockchain, Rangaiah said the key difference is that this consortium is building a foundational infrastructure.
NYIAX, for instance, an ad contract exchange in partnership with stock exchange Nasdaq, is also using blockchain tech to made digital advertising more transparent and more readily reconciled. The difference, he said, is that the IBM/Mediaocean consortium isn’t an exchange and isn’t a participant itself in ad tech but will have exchanges and other ad tech players work on top of its foundation.
At the moment, he said, there is “no competing project at our scale” employing blockchain to fix advertising.