It promises to be an evolutionary—rather than a revolutionary—new year on the digital marketing front. In 2018, artificial intelligence grows up, header bidding settles in and blockchain finally finds its place in the advertising world. Cutting-edge technologies and approaches are reaching a maturation stage—at least, according to the industry leaders who are looking ahead.
I asked several industry colleagues to share their outlook on 2018, and here’s what they see on the horizon:
AI will change—not replace—our jobs
In 2018, we’ll see AI as a way to amplify human ability, not a substitute for it, says Kristina Goldberg, vp of programmatic for Spark Foundry. Machines have plenty of advantages; they have the ability to consume, process, interpret and act upon large quantities of data faster than human minds are capable of. But we still need humans to create, adjust and feed data into the systems. “As the technology becomes more sophisticated, our jobs will follow suit to be more technology-leaning,” Goldberg says. Buyers can hand over more and more operational tasks to AI workhorses, allowing them to focus on measurement and refinement strategies—like using AI algorithms to dynamically score users to isolate high-likelihood converters—in real time.
Tech will get cleaned up
Right now, the complexities of programmatic systems are getting in the way of agency traders, and keeping them from doing what they do best—as well as distracting them from outcomes. That’s going to change in 2018, says Brian O’Kelley, CEO of AppNexus. “Machine learning will enable the simplification of traders’ technology, allowing them to get back to advertising basics and leverage creativity, intuition and data.” This streamlining will make it as straightforward to buy advertising on the open internet as it is to buy on Facebook—and bring more transparency and accountability to the process, which will mean better results for marketers.
Header bidding will hit mobile in-app advertising (and video)
In the past couple of years, header bidding has had a major impact on the desktop and mobile web display ad marketplace, observes Jeffrey Hirsch, CMO of PubMatic. But this year, in-app developers and publishers—who have been sidelined by rising CPMs and the lack of bidding technology—are going to join the game. “In 2018, we’ll start to see the adoption of mobile in-app server-to-server header bidding,” he predicts. There will be some consolidation in the market too, as mobile-specific exchanges feel the pressure. Companies will also start testing header-bidding solutions for video. Hirsch believes that adoption of these solutions will ramp up in the second half of the year.
Brand safety will improve
This year, we saw a flurry of Fortune 100 brands pulling out of digital video environments due to brand safety concerns, reflects Steve Katelman, evp of global digital partnerships at Annalect. These faux pas have exposed some of the limitations to relying strictly on analyzing headlines and text that appears on a platform or publisher’s site. “Next year, with the latest developments in AI, brands and publishers will be able to use computer vision to identify unsafe imagery and deliver ads in a safer, more contextually relevant environment.”
Deep neural networks will go mainstream
Some of the most sophisticated forms of AI, such as those that power Apple’s Siri and Google Pixel’s portrait mode, will become increasingly integrated into programmatic ecosystems, posits Rohit Bagalkot, director of programmatic at Zenith. Ironically, as deep neural networks—which can learn to draw human-like conclusions from data—become more commonplace, it’s the human factor that will set those models apart. “The systems are only as good as what you put into them. Choosing inputs carefully—keeping recency and accuracy of data in mind—will train the networks to find customers that truly matter, generating long term business outcomes,” Bagalkot says.
There will be major strides against fraud
This will be a big year for the fight against ad fraud, believes Dennis Buchheim, svp and general manager of IAB’s tech lab. “Our industry is in the midst of a major push towards supply chain transparency through the adoption of solutions such as ads.txt, which gives publishers a way to tell buyers who is authorized to sell their inventory,” he says. Publishers will also authenticate their inventory with OpenRTB 3.0, giving buyers more confidence in what they’re buying—and from whom.
Blockchain’s benefits will become increasingly clear
If you don’t know what blockchain is, now is the time to learn. Blockchain solutions—which store transaction information in a decentralized and more secure way—“will go from hype and hope to brass tacks,” Buchheim says. The industry will start to use it to combat fraud, for billing and reconciliation, identity and consent management and more.
Are you ready for the shifts that are coming in 2018? There’s still time to prepare for the evolution.