The ad-tech industry was having a turbulent year even before the coronavirus pandemic upended digital advertising. So what does the industry look like now, and how can people just entering it find their footing?
We invited students from Boston College professor Kay Lemon’s applied marketing management course in the Carroll School of Management to ask Hypergiant co-founder and CEO Ben Lamm questions about ad tech and marketing. Most of the students are marketing majors, and all of them are graduating in the spring.
Katherine A. Herlihy: I’m sure that ad tech has developed along with consumer trends and varying technologies. What is the greatest change you’ve observed in ad tech, and do you predict any major changes in the future?
Lamm: The biggest thing about ad tech is that most people don’t even see online ads. How do we change that? We have to rethink what an ad is. Ads are less than 150 years old in the form we think of them now. Maybe they, like all industries, need to be rethought. My guess is that in the future we see less, not more, ads. But also we see less competition, and I’m not sure if that is good for the world.
Julia N. Amato: Do you think that certain industries or product/service categories benefit from using ad tech or marketing tech more than others? Are there any particular industries that you think do not use ad tech enough but should?
B-to-B companies don’t know how to advertise really in any way that is effective. Most of them don’t because they don’t know who their customer is. There is massive room for improvements in that space. We don’t advertise at Hypergiant because we get a lot of inbound requests. We get those through great brand, great work and great word-of-mouth success. My big questions: Does B-to-B need ads if they create better brands? And how does everyone advertise less, not more?
Sarah J. Santoro: How has the role of creatives changed as a result of trends in digital advertising and marketing? As you can get more and more targeted with ad placement, should companies become even more targeted and personalized with messaging and ad concept? How granular is too granular?
You cannot be too granular. Most companies have less than 5,000 customers, so you need to micro-target to get 5,000 customers. That’s so specific; you should know people’s names. Yes, that is not true for Fortune 500 companies, but how did they get there? By knowing people’s names. Know people’s names. Know what they like. Know why they like your product and sell that to them.
The world needs more creatives, not less. Most advertisements are boring. We need people brave enough to take more creative chances, to be entertaining and to drive desire. My whole company is built off a great B-to-B brand because it’s a lot more fun to have a creative brand, and it’s a lot more effective.
James Helf: It seems to be a hot-topic issue to discuss the merits of cookies and design a replacement. What are the shortcomings of cookies? How could it be improved upon/replaced? And how will that affect ad tech, both on the company side and the consumer side?
The biggest problem with cookies is that they track your online usage to target information at you. Even with consent being asked now by most websites, the issue is still that cookie tracking has become inherent to our usage pattern of the internet. If we replace it, we still are just coming up with a new non-cookie technology.
Instead, what we need to do is figure how we want to use the internet and then legislate for that usage: Either we think it’s fine to be served ads, or we want to not be served ads. That’s a human decision, not a technology decision.
Gillian R. Rozynek: Do you believe there will be enough technological innovation in the future to limit the amount of retargeting for an ad if the consumer has already purchased the product? Is there any way to know that/stop the retargeting of ads based on the consumer’s purchase history?
Go build that. I’m not going to build it, but you should. Companies should be better about knowing when to sell things to a consumer, but this is not necessarily about building better ads. It’s about better knowing your customer. Knowing your customer is about talking to them, about great CRM systems, about understanding consumer mentality and the buying cycle for your products. It’s about the granular understanding of your human customer. Sure, ads can get better, but really companies need to get better at this first and then ads can improve.