Ad Tech Is Butchering Your User Data

- January 5, 2017

User data is a paradox in the way it is controlled and used in organizations. For some companies, their use of ad tech makes them hostages to data. On some platforms, they cannot use their own customer data as seamlessly as they should.

It’s time that they regain control. And it’s essential that they do this now before they devalue data and alienate users.

I believe the solution rests in answering one question: How can we implement a single customer view?

Building a single customer view is absolutely central to the success of all businesses. I am talking about building a picture of a real person: someone with values and behaviors, attitudes and attributes. However, with so many different agendas plaguing the digital advertising ecosystem, it is difficult for an advertiser or publisher to make the most of their own audience data.

Media agencies, publishers, ad tech platforms and advertisers have all different objectives, a situation that particularly affects and prevents a holistic approach to user data. The imbalance within those players and their interests is the obstacle to be overcome.


Publishers are often stuck between the past and the future. Not yet fully embracing digital, they are often still unable to make bold choices and sacrifice old business models. Having to fill a gap compared to digital natives, many are often still shy in their hiring strategies, instead of bringing top digital talent on board from the forefront of digital innovation.

On the other side, top digital talent is wary of joining companies and corporations that are seen as slow and old-fashioned. This causes a dangerous imbalance of knowledge, expertise and expectations when vetting and negotiating with ad tech companies that promise publishers huge revenue increases, such as “Just put my tag on your pages and you’ll make 15% to 20% more.”

Some ad tech platforms make it difficult for their clients to integrate with other platforms within their ad stacks, because they may see other platforms as competitors and ignore the objectives of their clients. As a result, publishers too often fail to understand how the platforms they are about to sign up with will handle their user data and integrate with other ad tech partners in a way that’s necessary for building a single customer view.

Ad Tech Platforms

Many of today’s digital advertising and marketing issues are caused by publishers and advertisers ceding too much power to ad tech platforms instead of seeing them as providers of a service, at the publisher’s service. Many ad tech companies provide real value. Others are focused on the next round of funding or a quick exit strategy, so what happens with their clients’ data and how they make it available back to the client is secondary.

Media Agencies 

Media agencies are the middlemen and sit between the advertiser and content and the advertiser and user, yet they don’t own the media, the data or the relationship with the user. In their quest for relevancy and their role in the game, they may fight tooth and nail to make audience data their own, either literally or by controlling it end to end. Their objective is different than ad tech companies, but the result is the same: Data is often pulled away from the client’s overall control and visibility.


Marketers are often oblivious to the tug of data happening around them. For some in the mix, advertisers are a valuable resource to protect and support. Unfortunately, other players are not so principled and see advertisers as a revenue source to exploit indefinitely; they’re the ultimate cash cow.

The User

Let’s not forget the most important element for the advertiser or the media owner, who is picking up the bill in this ecosystem: the actual human being whose data is collected, analyzed, interpreted, sometimes misinterpreted and perhaps even abused by the siloed way this industry often operates. In ad tech today, the user is represented not by a human being but by an often-incomplete series of signals and data points.

It doesn’t have to be like that. The future lies in understanding the single customer view, which can only be done by demanding that a company’s audience data is handled the way it, along with its advertiser or media owner, decides. It must be handled with openness, integrations and transparency, rather than a fragmented approach that mirrors the agendas of ad tech providers and/or agencies.

I am concerned that the way audience data is being exploited today in a fragmented way is hindering progress and growth. The industry also tends to bank short-term revenue at the expense of long-term success and sustainability.

Currently, we have fragmentation both outside and inside of organizations. The act of handing user data to an ad tech provider may offer some relief, but only if it’s the right platform. A company should be able to use the platform to access its own user data at will but also consolidate it with any other platforms within its ad tech and mar tech stack. The platform should enable brands to know the context and identify unique joined-up users, rather than portions of their data, which are held in different platforms, even by a brand’s or publisher’s different internal departments and teams.

I see a bright future for the digital advertising and marketing industry when it finally prioritizes depth and quality against reach and quantity at all costs. Ultimately, that is an environment that engages with people, not data points.

No matter where companies sit in this ecosystem, they possess the power to regain control of their user data to provide customers with better experiences and higher value.

It’s about companies and their customers, including their engagement with the brand and their experience. It’s ultimately a company’s audience data and the future of its business.

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