Through the combination of the PWC report once again highlighting issues on transparency and fees, the imminent demise of the third party cookie, fraud and the ever increasing dominance of GAFA, display sure needs fixing.

How did things get so bad?

Online display was formed in the early days of online marketing in the first era between 1995 and the dotcom crash in 2001. This is where the first mistake was made, the currency of the web being the ad impression which worked in this era where demand outstripped supply.

However after the dotcom crash in 2001 and the market changed, it precipitated a race to the bottom in terms of pricing of a metric (CPM) that has nothing to say about quality of environment or attention. This may have been ok if it was accompanied with strict standards on what an ad impression meant but despite efforts from trade bodies, even today many impressions come from spots that have very short average dwell time, poor viewability and huge ad clutter (number of ads on page).

How did things get so bad?

It was in this second era that the second and third mistakes were made. Ad networks mixed up publishers large and small, high quality and – lets say questionable – quality around the concept of an audience of third party cookies and cookie based attribution. Great news for cheap media that can churn out millions of page impressions bad news for quality publishers.

The third era, the programmatic era from 2008 to 2020, was meant to fix this with auction mechanics that would guarantee publishers a fair price for their inventory. However, the mistakes on how we measured and targeted inventory combined with a huge increase in complexity made sure this did not happen. At least in the network era, ad networks sold products like the “Comscore Top 50” sites as some sign of quality. Instead, we had a world of cookie bombing, multiple vendors taking a share of a media transaction (Wayne Blodwell, Founder of The Programmatic Advisory, counted twenty-five possible vendors in a single impression buy in a recent LinkedIn post) and high levels of complexity making the world opaque.

For fraud, poor content, data leakage and money siphoning you could read death, war, famine and pestilence – the apocalypse has come.


Robert Webster is the Co Founder of Canton Marketing Solutions. With 20 years experience guiding leading global brands with their digital marketing setup, strategy and execution Rob is one of the leading practitioners in the industry.

1 Comment

  • Oliver Turnbull, July 3, 2020 @ 8:28 pm Reply

    Great article rob very interesting !

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