The biggest challenge facing ad tech is trust: Rocket Fuel co-founder

By Lucy Carroll | 13 August 2015
George John, chairman and founder at Rocket Fuel

The meteoric rise of artificial intelligence has provided enormous advantages for the ad tech space but also one of its greatest challenges – how to get advertisers to trust the industry, says George John, co-founder and chairman of Rocket Fuel.

For Rocket Fuel, the programmatic marketing platform that acts as a middle man between advertiser and publisher, artificial intelligence – or ads that respond to users reactions - has been the crux of its business since it was founded in 2008.

But the rise of ad fraud, fake traffic and the complex world of online advertising means more advertisers are suspicious of impressions and the quality of the audience.

“Advertisers are not used to trusting a robot,” says John. “They want results and they are used to getting results through planning and analysis. Trust is one of our biggest issues.”

He said a huge wave of early adopters of advertising artificial intelligence were very excited by the results and that powered Rocket Fuel's massive growth when the company went public in 2013.

“There's now a new wave of advertisers who want to understand how results are achieved and participate in the process rather than just delegate to us.”

“What we are trying to do is overcome that black box feeling and give transparency and visibility into how the campaign is being delivered and what media is being purchased.”

John says the key is getting advertisers is to actively participate in the process.

“We have developed an Insights Tool that can help you understand what's working in your campaign and the demographics of people responding. They can watch it as it happens an be informed of what the machines learn over time. The idea is to give advertisers a better sense of what's happening.”

Last year, Rocket Fuel faced serious questions about the quality of the ad space it sells and how many of its ads were viewed by fraudster robots rather than humans. In response, the company developed a traffic scanner tool to help ensure transparency and hired a fraud detection provider to check the quality of its impressions.

There have also been a number of class action lawsuits that have been filed against the business, alleging Rocket Fuel was distributing misleading information to investors.

John said the outcome of those suits are still pending.

“It's not uncommon for publicly listed companies to be sued. I don't think it should be taken as an indication of much. We do take strong issue with the claims in the lawsuit.”

Despite a plunge in share price earlier this year, John said the company is growing with about 1000 people employed globally.

The managing director of the Australian arm of Rocket Fuel, JJ Eastwood, said while the local side is still small, it is set to grow substantially within the next year.

“We are hiring and will be hiring again in January. Over the next year we expect to hire about 10 staff, which will bring our total to 17,” says Eastwood.

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