This Agency Thinks Blockchain Is the Answer to Advertising’s Media Transparency Issues

Truth promises to 'clean up' the supply chain

L to R: Truth CEO Mary Keane-Dawson, The Marketing Group CEO Adam Hopkinson, Truth COO Adam Graham Truth
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

As global media reviews for big brands like AB InBev, Amazon and McDonald’s continue to play an outsized role in determining the ad industry’s biggest winners and losers, transparency is top of mind for every marketing chief.

One new agency proposes an answer in the form of the labyrinthine technology known as blockchain.

“Programmatic doesn’t have to be problematic,” said Adam Graham, CEO of The Marketing Group, in explaining the launch of its newest agency, Truth. “That’s our starting point: everyone’s talking about transparency, but no one’s doing anything about it.”

The London-based shop claims it can use blockchain—which is now best known as the technology supporting virtual currency Bitcoin—to eliminate all possibility of the sort of undisclosed rebates between media buyers and publishers that led P&G’s Marc Pritchard to describe the media supply chain as “murky at best and fraudulent at worst.”

According to Truth COO Adam Hopkinson, the permanent, ledger-style nature of blockchain “gets rid of the black boxes in the middle” of the trail leading from brand to publisher so “clients can see exactly what’s happening, when, where and why.”

Every media agency promises complete transparency to clients. But as a programmatic transaction moves from client to agency to trading desk and eventually to publisher, its trail disappears. “Complete transparency is a relative measure,” said Graham, adding that the client “loses all sense of [an ad buy’s] real value when it hits the publisher.”

If this transaction occurs within the blockchain system, however, the immutable nature of the records, or blocks, ensure that the data within cannot be altered as clients track their individual media buys. Banks and other financial institutions have recently expressed interest in blockchain for this reason.

“Programmatic will increasingly be the way all media is bought, but we have to think about how we define it,” said Hopkinson. In the case of blockchain, he argues that clients are “not buying the tech, they are buying the philosophy of trustworthiness.”

Truth will be led by Mary Keane-Dawson, who joined The Marketing Group earlier this year as global chief executive for performance media after a stint at Ogilvy. TMG is a Stockholm-based agency network that ranked behind only WPP and Dentsu in total mergers and acquisitions last year.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.