Cross-industry blockchain pilot for programmatic shows ‘promising’ first step

A cross-industry pilot scheme for using blockchain tech with programmatic advertising has shown “promising opportunities” for increasing transparency in the much-maligned digital supply chain.

The Trustworthy Accountability Group (merged with Jicwebs last year) launched the scheme in 2019 with major brands including Nestlé, O2 and McDonald’s, as well as media agencies from WPP (Group M), Havas, Omnicom, Interpublic Group and Publicis Groupe (Zenith).

TAG said the pilot has helped demonstrate the potential of distributed ledger (blockchain) technology to increase transparency in the supply chain, the shortcomings of which were exposed in a landmark ISBA report published in May. The report said publishers are, at best, receiving only half the money paid for ads served on their websites, while 15% of money can’t be accounted for. 

Under the TAG trial, the DLT platform showed the potential to provide a “unified data and reporting layer for the industry” despite a lack of log-level data availability and inconsistency issues. The ISBA report cited these issues as a reason why the auditors PwC could verify only 12% of ad impressions – in other words, it could be proved for only one in eight programmatic transactions that an advertiser’s money was being spent in the correct way.

The pilot also showed “promising” opportunities potentially to achieve a so-called “shared truth”, where the same data is recognised as valid and accurate across the supply chain”, Jules Kendrick, managing director UK & Europe for TAG, added. The focus of the pilot was more on the validation and reconciliation of impressions and less on the financial values. For DLT reconciled impressions, 34% were categorised as non-qualified and/or non-viewable.

TAG now plans to launch an industry consultation, led by director of strategy and standards Adrian Lacey, to share more detailed information about the initiative and ask for views on how to move forward with using blockchain in programmatic media.

Nigel Vaz, IPA president and chief executive of Publicis.Sapient, said: “For me the focus of this project is ultimately about digital advertising payments and reconciliation of the supply chain. While the internet made information accessible to everyone, we hope blockchain as a technology – and specifically DLT, as used in this pilot – will start to create accountability for the transactional aspects of the internet. 

“While driving efficiencies, it will also enable greater transparency in line with real, demanding regulatory requirements in a way that will allow us to regain the trust we’ve lost due to the evolving proliferation in this area.”

TAG partnered London-based tech business Fiducia for the pilot, which ran from July 2019 to July 2020 and analysed 112 million impressions worth £1.4m across 127 campaigns.