I Don't Understand Ad Tech

Posted by Matt Birchler
— 2 min read

The internet likes to make us all experts on anything. You see this all the time on social media where people post with the confidence of experts on things they just learned about 5 minutes prior. In the Apple community, it's amazing how many people go from being experts on UX to cars to ads to payments to audio to whatever Apple topic we're talking about that day.

Not to mention we all became infectious disease experts during covid. "Oh, you've been doing this for decades and are an expert in your field? Well I heard Rogan say something else, so I think I know more about this than you."

I'm not above it all, either. I say things with confidence because I feel like I should have something to say. I like to think I prefix with, "I think…" rather than expressing things with absolute certainty, but I'm definitely not perfect.

One area I think this applies to me is ad tech. I think I have a decent understanding of how online ads work, but I really just know things at a very surface level.

  • How are ads targeted?
  • What data is collected?
  • How personal is that data?
  • Who holds the data?
  • How useful are ads?
  • How beneficial to merchants are targeted ads?

Like most of you reading this, I know enough of the answer to each of these questions to be dangerous, but I don't really know a ton. Sure, I can tell you what Apple's marketing and Facebook's marketing says, but honestly that's only so useful as those companies are just trying to push the narrative that is the most profitable to them. Ben Thompson seems to have a good grasp on all things ads, as does Eric Seufert, and they both provide lots of examples to back up their opinions on the subject, so my opinions tend to veer their direction. Are there voices out there that present as much evidence for their opinions (aka not Apple or Facebook marketing materials) and disagree? I'd love to find them.

This is a long way of saying that I'm going to try and be mindful of when I make definitive statements about topics I don't actually know definitively. I know a ton about payments, I'd argue more than almost anyone else covering Apple today, so I'll continue to lean into that when it comes up, but I'll keep working on differentiating those opinions from those that I don't know as well.