IBM, Mediaocean announce blockchain consortium to tackle what’s wrong with ad tech

A variety of startups are using blockchain as a way to add transparency to the notoriously opaque ad tech system, including NYIAX, Kiip, Kochava and MetaX.

And now a new ad-focused blockchain consortium has recently been announced 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, unveiled last month at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, is powered by the blockchain protocol developed by IBM and made open source, called 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 a transactional breadcrumb trail that is immediately distributed to all participants with access to a node, and that, for all practical purposes, is 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 happen 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 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.



About The Author

Barry Levine covers marketing technology for Third Door Media. Previously, he covered this space as a Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and he has written about these and other tech subjects for such publications as CMSWire and NewsFactor. He founded and led the web site/unit at PBS station Thirteen/WNET; worked as an online Senior Producer/writer for Viacom; created a successful interactive game, PLAY IT BY EAR: The First CD Game; founded and led an independent film showcase, CENTER SCREEN, based at Harvard and M.I.T.; and served over five years as a consultant to the M.I.T. Media Lab. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at xBarryLevine.