Omnicom, IPG, IBM and Meredith Join the Board of a Blockchain Consortium to Set Standards

AdLedger's board was announced at Cannes

The first eight members of the board—which will have around 15 members—were announced today in Cannes.
Headshot of Marty Swant

Executives from several major tech companies, agencies and media companies are joining the board of a blockchain consortium devoted to setting standards for using the technology in digital advertising.

IBM, Omnicom Media Group, Reprise, Meredith Corp., Salon and CoinDesk are putting their names behind AdLedger, a nonprofit research and development group that aims to both support the emerging technology and make sure the blockchain ecosystem doesn’t develop in a haphazard way. The board also includes representation from blockchain companies such as MAD Network CEO Adam Helfgott, who is a founding member of AdLedger.

The first eight members of the board—which will have around 15 members—were announced today in Cannes, where a number of executives spent the week talking about blockchain technology and how it might help create a more transparent environment for digital advertising. The next meeting will be hosted sometime in the next couple of months at IPG MediaBrands, and it’ll be followed by quarterly meetings along with other working sessions in between.

“How do we make sure that people don’t (say) ‘I tried blockchain and it didn’t work’?” said AdLedger executive director Christiana Cacciapuoti. “It would be like saying, ‘I tried JavaScript and it didn’t work.’ It’s an underlying infrastructure.”

Board members said it’s tough to create standards and regulations for something that can’t yet be defined.

“I really like professionalizing and standardizing it before people run off with crazy ideas and burn something that has a lot of positive impact,” said Tim Ringel, global CEO, of Reprise, an IPG Mediabrands agency. “If you really understand it, it could really liberate the industry.”

While some brands and agencies are just beginning to test blockchain technologies, the industry seems to be heating up. This week, a number of major advertising and technology companies have announced plans to debut blockchain products and services for digital advertisers—which many say could disrupt the existing ad-tech ecosystem by cutting out the need for middle layers between the brands buying the ads and the publishers displaying them.

Earlier this week, AB Inbev said it’s testing pilot blockchain-enabled campaigns for brands like Budweiser and Michelob that shows impression level data. A day later, IBM and Mediaocean debuted a pilot program with several major brands to show how digital dollars are distributed.

“This may be sort of hyperbole on purpose,” said AdLedger board member Chad Andrews, global solutions leader of advertising at IBM. “But the use cases (of blockchain) are like 2005 internet, and the technology is more like 1995 internet. So there’s still a little bit of reconciliation between the two.”

According to Andrews, media buying as it currently happens today in digital advertising is plagued by issues with transparency and identity. Andrews said IBM doesn’t see performance at scale outside of those walled gardens. He said the discrepancy standards for error set by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) for digital campaigns industry-wide is 10 percent, which creates a gap in the “basic alignment on truth” that marketers want.

“If I had a movie that’s opening this Friday, and I don’t find out until next month that there was an issue—maybe an innocent tagging issue on a publisher’s site—those were butts that won’t be in my seats,” he said.

Part of what blockchain could do is shuffle the existing power structure within ad tech, wresting it away from closed-off ecosystems like Facebook and Google by building more decentralized building-and-buying digital advertising campaigns.

AdLedger’s plan to create its own standards might also set itself up for a battle with the IAB if the definitions and standards it creates differ from any created by the IAB itself. Last year, the IAB Tech Lab created its own blockchain working group last year to explore the technology’s potential.

None of AdLedger’s board members would say outright that it could compete with the IAB, which is tasked with representing the massive ad-tech ecosystem that could be threatened by blockchain. Rather, Cacciapuoti said AdLedger could do for blockchain what another group, the Trustworthy Accountability Group, does for creating standards for dealing with ad fraud.

However, the back-up of several agency holding companies, publishers and major tech companies could help create clout.

“The funny part of blockchain is that you need to decentralize power,” Ringel said.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.