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Mobile Programmatic And The Problem With Information Asymmetry

A few weeks back, just as the industry was gearing up for MCW, mobile commentator Ciaran O’Kane lamented that ad tech would once again be “occupying the fringes instead of rightly being prime time.”

I’m the first to admit that Mark Zuckerberg parading down an aisle surrounded by unwitting journalists in VR headgear, looked a little more exciting than discussions on the finer points of the LUMAscape.

But then again, I couldn’t help agreeing, just a little, with O’Kane’s sentiment.

Mobile adtech and martech is an exciting place to be right now. In what’s become a regularly cited report, eMarketer forecast that U.S. mobile programmatic ad spending will reach $9.33 billion in 2016 and account for 60.5% of total U.S. programmatic display ad spending.

Next year, it predicts, mobile spending will “eclipse” desktop. Things are on the up.

But as mobile programmatic’s trajectory steepens, a certain cautiousness has started to creep in. Part of this stems from the spirited early investment in adtech. Billions went in, but billions haven’t come out.

Additionally, as a result of this early investment, there’s the problem of mobile programmatic becoming a parity market. The market is not only extremely crowded, but some argue, also undifferentiated, so advertisers struggle to work out where best to place their money.

But there’s another issue, one that I think is a bigger, growing challenge that’s behind this tentativeness, and that’s information asymmetry.

Information asymmetry happens when one party in a transaction has more or superior information compared to another. I can’t think of anywhere where this more apparent than in mobile advertising, where the technology partner has most of the power and the advertiser relatively little.

Run your campaign through a great Demand Side Platform (there are plenty out there) and it might seem like less of an issue. They’ll deliver what they promised, in time, within budget.

Run it through one of the less great ones, and well, it becomes quite a big problem — especially if you’ve spent a lot of money.

Moreover, even if the technology is great, live reporting tools aren’t always so strong. The only real insight is a post-campaign report saying what happened. There are little or no opportunities to see what’s going on and affect the campaign in real time.

In an age where there’s a dashboard and analytics for everything, it’s strange that the mobile advertising world for the most part is still a closed box. In fact, for the modern marketer it’s more than strange, it’s anathema.

The result is a growing mistrust and an increasing call for transparency from the media agencies.

At a time when there’s never been so much expectation on mobile, suspicion abounds; information asymmetry is a big cause of this. Ad technology shouldn’t be seen as magic black boxes, but ras tools that can be used with dexterity to manipulate and improve campaigns.

Any ad technologies that can lift the lid to show what’s going on inside and empower brands and agencies to really get a hold of their own campaigns, will win big. More than that, they’ll create a stronger, healthier market than any we’ve seen to date.