What Blockchain (Potentially) Means For Omnichannel Marketing

Initially, CPG giant Unilever's decision to use IBM iX's Blockchain is about eliminating "discrepancies," says IBM iX's Babs Rangaiah. But the potential use cases for improved geotargeting may soon emerge.

All the talk of Blockchain in the marketing world lately would seem like advertisers are simply jumping on to a “trend for trend’s sake.” After all, until agencies, platforms, and publishers start accepting payment in bitcoin, what’s the point?

Well, even the shallowest dive into the Blockchain digital ledger concept shows that its more than just about trading cryptocurrencies (though, of course, that is an essential part of it).

As GeoMarketing’s Lauryn Chamberlain describes the digital accounting and verification technology, the name is meant to describe how “blocks” of data are strung together to comprise this digital ledger — running over a peer-to-peer network that protects and authenticates the data, which is why it is viewed as such a secure format.

So beyond serving as the clearinghouse for virtual currencies, Blockchain’s promise to improve payment security and authentication matters to marketers, because it impacts how people buy, acquire and sell things — things like advertising placements in real-time.

While automated ad buys have advanced the ability to precisely target ad placements at consumers, the age-old problem of invoice discrepancies still plague brands, notes Babs Rangaiah, executive Partner, Global Marketing, IBM iX, the tech company’s in-house agency.

So this past week’s deal between consumer packaged goods bellwether Unilever and IBM iX to partner on a pilot program tracking ad placements using Blockchain is initially meant to make the process more transparent and less prone to mistakes in invoicing.

We checked in with Rangaiah, an ad industry vet who has held executive posts at and Unilever, to get a better sense of what marketers can hope to achieve with Blockchain.

GeoMarketing: Why is an accounting Blockchain so important to media buyers and sellers right now? And why is this right for Unilever?

Babs Rangaiah: We often say that Blockchain will do for transactions what the internet did for communication. So, it’s the very early stages. We expect it to be transformative technology. As it relates to advertising, having worked at Unilever, I knew that they were dealing with many issues related to programmatic media buying.

For years, it was a pretty seamless process with client, agency publisher with one measurement source, either Nielsen for television or MRI for print. It was pretty straightforward and everyone kind of trusted that that third party number was right — whether they believed it was the methodology or not, that was irrelevant. That was the number, everyone went with it. Very little discrepancy.

With programmatic, there was several more steps that were required because of issues that came up around fraud, and bots, and viewability. Plus, there was a slew of third party “middle men.”

How does that impact the ad buy?

To make a transaction, you have an agency, seven or eight companies, then a publisher. They all take a little piece of the pie. The publisher gets far less money. The advertiser has less money working towards media, towards reaching consumers.

Keith Weed, and the Unilever team have been working for a few years on solving some of those issues, and they’ve done a good job. I know for a fact they’ve been very innovative. They also feel some sense of responsibility to lead an industry in solving issues. They’ve done it in the past.

How did IBM iX get involved in attempting to help Unilever solve those issues?

Having worked at IBM iX now for a year and a half, you get really embedded in the technology when you work at here. Everything’s focused around artificial intelligence for the Internet of Things. So I quickly realized that this technology was built exactly for the kind of issues we were facing in media buying.

So, I contacted the team. We had a chat. We did a design thinking workshop where we really kind of delved into the specifics, and the pain points and what the issues were. Who the players were. And we built the blueprint for solving those issues, leveraging blockchain as the underlying technology. Blockchain, in its own right, it’s built for trust and transparency, consensus, and all the things that were required that we felt could solve some of those issues.

What are the range of issues IBM iX and Unilever can initially tackle?

We are at stage one, which is all about financial reconciliation. As I mentioned, this is about delivering a number that everyone can agree upon in a transaction. There’s several different numbers between the ad server to the publisher. Because of the number of players and because of the number of different audience figures. And so, clients and agencies literally have 10, 20, people that work full time on solving these discrepancies. With blockchain, rather than reconciling at the end of the placement, it reconciles the numbers by the day.

How might IBM iX, as IBM’s in-house agency, positioning the use of Blockchain over time? Can it also promote improved targeting, particularly when it comes to the complications involved in omnichannel strategies between online and offline, desktop and mobile and voice activation?

Potentially. That is not something that we have had any discussion about, since, as I’ve mentioned, this is all early stage. Certainly, in a private blockchain, if one of the rules were on the end game, which is potentially e-commerce, it could be with specific partners. I think it would be tough to do a brick-and-mortar or offline piece on its own. But I’m sure it’s possible. The technology for this stuff advances almost daily. You see different companies popping up with different specialties, on top of the blockchain. It’s kind of hard to see right now where the possibilities will go,  but with our IOT capabilities certainly the online/offline, is a pretty good bet down the road.

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.