In October 2008, Satoshi Nakamoto launched bitcoin with a white paper, creating and deploying bitcoin’s original implementation. As part of the implementation, the first blockchain database was devised. Despite being released almost a decade ago, however, blockchain technology has only entered the public consciousness in the last few years.
With that heightened awareness has come an increased dialogue about blockchain’s applications, not to mention financial potential. This was perhaps best demonstrated by Long Island Iced Tea, which changed its name to the Long Blockchain Corporation, announced it was going to start mining bitcoin, and saw its shares more than quadruple in a single day.
Hysteria aside, companies are exploring how best to leverage blockchain. For example, brands are exploring whether blockchain can help solve some serious challenges with transparency in marketing and advertising. This is especially pertinent as GDPR and privacy concerns make data security even more important to consumers.
Numerous brands are seeing what blockchain can do – here are four prime examples.
Asian airline Cathay Pacific and its rewards program, Asia Miles, have teamed up with Accenture to launch their first application of blockchain technology. The airline will issue air miles to customers over a single distributed ledger, allowing customers, airline partners, and the airline itself to manage member rewards in real-time.
The new campaign, called ‘Unlock More Miles,’ ties in with a promotion in Hong Kong where Asia Miles members see miles earned credited to their accounts the following day. The blockchain platform automates data fulfillment procedures, enabling a transparent transaction history between the airline and participating dining partners by sharing the data set. This improves business efficiency by minimizing back-office administration.
Cathay Pacific is just one of a number of airlines exploring applications of blockchain technology. Air Asia has announced that it will migrate its rewards program to a new cryptocurrency called “BigCoin.” The firm may also hold an initial coin offering (ICO) to fund the development of a new financial services division.
Elsewhere, German airline Lufthansa has announced its investment in a Swiss blockchain startup – through an ICO – after revealing plans to launch a B2B blockchain marketplace on a public Ethereum blockchain.
Ad agency Havas is making significant moves in the blockchain market. In March the company announced the launch of Havas Blockchain, an integrated communications offering designed to support blockchain tech businesses and entrepreneurs.
Havas Blockchain is initially focused on supporting ICOs, an area of significant investment over recent months. However, typical communications support is also offered to blockchain startups.
Meanwhile, as part of the wider Havas Blockchain initiative, Havas Sports & Entertainment has launched a blockchain-powered loyalty program for sports organizations and sponsors that rewards fans for their engagement. Fans participating in the programs can be awarded digital coins for being a “Key Opinion Leader” and trade them with other fans, swap them across different loyalty programs, or turn them into consumer goods, exclusive content, or other experiences.
This solution could create new marketing opportunities and revenue streams for sports organizations. The virtual currency can also collect data on fans, which advertisers may use for better targeting or “fanalytics”.
And as a display of further blockchain ambition, Havas collaborated with TD Ameritrade to create the first ad placement on the bitcoin blockchain.
In March 2017, IBM launched its Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) solution and has long been involved in a range of trials in several different industries. The 107-year-old company has already collaborated with Danish shipping giant Maersk on global supply chain inefficiencies and retail colossus Walmart on food supply issues. Now Big Blue has turned its attention to programmatic advertising.
From data gathered from industry sources, eMarketer recently reported that, in 2017, around 55 percent of client budgets allocated for programmatic ad spend went toward paying the ad tech supply chain, one that is crowded with a large number of players, many that add very little value to transactions. This may explain why the 500 largest publishers in the U.S. cut their supply-side platforms (SSPs) by 20 percent in 2017.
And when one considers that digital ad fraud could hit $19bn in 2018, it’s clear that programmatic advertising faces a number of challenges. In separate collaborations with Salon Media and Unilever, IBM is harnessing the power of blockchain to bring greater trust to digital advertising by clamping down on ad fraud. Using a product created by AdLedger, IBM and Salon are looking to iron out weak link intermediaries between advertisers, publishers and consumers in an effort to combat growing problems like bot fraud and domain spoofing.
Meanwhile, Unilever is working with IBM Blockchain and IBM iX, IBM’s business consultancy arm, on a blockchain solution for media buying that aims to improve efficiency and transparency across the digital media supply chain and ad trading processes. Speaking at the IAB’s Annual Leadership Meeting in February, Unilever CMCO — and 2017’s most influential CMO — Keith Weed elaborated on the partnership: “This is really going to bring transparency into the media world. We’ve done a pilot, we’ve looked at some historical data, and we can see where some discrepancies are.” The two companies’ blockchain pilot detected the aforementioned discrepancies almost immediately, as opposed to having to wait out the entire campaign.
IBM is just one of many technology giants betting big on blockchain.
In March 2017, Nasdaq announced the launch of NYIAX (New York Interactive Advertising Exchange), the world’s first guaranteed advertising contract exchange.
NYIAX provides an electronic marketplace for publishers, advertisers, and media buyers to buy and sell future advertising inventory. Participants on the exchange forward-like contracts, or agreements to buy and sell an asset at a specified price and a set future date. The goal is to offer a more efficient and transparent way for players in the ads market to buy and sell inventory.
NYIAX’s platform was built using Nasdaq’s exchange technology, which incorporates blockchain as its core ledger for transactions.
More recently, NYIAX rolled out a series of partnerships as part of its preparations for a full launch. First, it announced a partnership with Colorado-based startup Rebel AI. Rebel uses the cryptographic capability of blockchain’s wallet component to verify that inventory that claims to be on, say, The New York Times website, is in fact on that site. Additionally, Rebel AI uses cryptographic signatures to verify that the ad was delivered to a given page.
Second, having filed a patent last December for trading any physical or digital asset on an exchange, NYIAX recently announced a new partnership with mesmr. This is the first effort — outside of NYIAX’s own exchange — to implement the patent-pending approach. The central idea behind mesmr is that content creators upload their creative work into channels and then buy and sell value around that content.
It remains to be seen whether NYIAX’s approach pays off. However, $5.65 million in new seed funding will undoubtedly help.
Although It’s still early days in blockchain’s development, the transformative potential is clear. Blockchain could be adopted for a host of other uses, including enabling refugees to own their digital identity, voting, and even orchestrating a universal basic income, not to mention a plethora of applications in industries such as automotive and healthcare.
The world is still some way from a ‘blockchain transformation’. However, if the predicted growth of the global blockchain market is anything to go by, then it’s not a question of if, but when.
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