Last week, the world of advertising technology and tracking once again experienced mainstream exposure. This time in the form a pitch for investment on the BBC show Dragons Den by Sam Jones the founder of privacy and reward focussed browser Gener8. After giving what has been described as “one of the best pitches ever seen on Dragon’s Den”, Sam secured £60,000 funding (and some free office space) for 10% of his business.
The value exchange in digital advertising, specifically programmatic advertising, is something I have talked about for a long time. Back in 2011 I recall speaking on a panel at a conference discussing how models and technology needed to evolve to allow users to control their data sharing. And a few years back I was fortunate enough to be a guest on BBC Radio 5Live discussing cookie use in programmatic and the value exchange between data and content. So the Gener8 model (which I hadn’t come across before the programme) is very interesting to me. I strongly believe this type of model is one which will shape the future of the advertising and data world. Granting specific permissions to share your data with known companies, not blanket permissions based on t&cs that are never read, where data is shared from one party to potentially hundreds of others.
Gener8 rewards users for sharing their date, by giving them points in exchange for the data they share. If a user opts into their rewards mode, the advertising revenue is split between the user and Gener8 in a 80/20 split. With 80% being rewarded back to the user in the form of points to be redeemed against products, vouchers or charity donations. According to Sam users are ‘earning £5-£25 per month through using Gener8 as well as being experiencing advertising more relevant to them and their interests.
As mentioned above, I believe this type of model is going to become part of the advertising ecosystem of the future, but is Gener8 the one to lead the way? I think they have some pretty significant hurdles to overcome if that is going to be the case.
Browser Choice and User Adoption
Gener8’s current technology comes in the form of a browser. Meaning a user has to download new software and change their behaviour to participate in the programme. Browser choice and the browser industry is a very tough one to influence. Users typically choose a browser based on their device and preinstalled software, or through a personal preference based on usability.
Safari use is driven by Apples device dominance, specifically in mobile. Google has Android devices driving its adoption, and (in my opinion) the superior browser from a usability perspective which drives download regardless of device. Microsoft has its strength in pre-installation on many personal computers and being part of the office suite.
To achieve significant take up Gener8 has to change a lot of habitual behaviour and cut into established market share, this wont be easy to do. A browser plugin may be a better route to adoption in the desktop market. They would still face challenges, but less significant in terms of changing user behaviour.
The Gener8 browser is currently available for Windows and MacOS devices. With mobile the dominant device for Internet use in their early markets, they need to change this and broaden mobile availability.
Many people on social media were quick to point out an app might be the better way to drive adoption. Users are now very used to utilising apps for specific purposes, and in a mobile sense it would significantly reduce friction to adoption. I have no doubt that this will be high on Gener8’s agenda.
Google and Existing Advertising Platforms
We didn’t hear too much on the show about “how” the technology interacts with traditional advertising platforms. Does it block them and overlay its own ads? Or utilise existing platforms and only share the selected data. I am going to assume the first option, which makes them by all intents and purposes an ad blocker. Many sites have already found ways of identifying and blocking ad blocker usage to protect their revenues, and could do the same for Gener8 visitors.
And Google is very unlikely to play ball with Gener8 in any way. They are a competitor in terms of the browser market, and a threat to advertising revenues. With Google being such a huge part of the programmatic advertising ecosystem.
Native Platforms & Walled Gardens
What I wasn’t clear on from the presentation was how Gener8 would deal with Facebook and other more native platforms, specifically social ones. It is pretty straight forward to identify ad scripts that are from 3rd party sources, but less so in native platforms. And there is certainly no way of making the ads within such platforms more relevant as that would require pushing data in dynamically, something they wouldnt be able to do.
So if it doesn’t work for where people will spend a lot of their time, how wide reaching and therefore usable is it for people?
Value vs Cost
If users are facing a scenario where content is made inaccessible, and they have to change their habits and behaviours to benefit, is the payback worth it? This is going to be key for Gener8 to balance off. At £5 per month would you adopt a new browser if it had drawbacks? I doubt it. At £25 per month maybe.
And then there is the fact they will have to make sure the vouchers/products on offer are appealing too as this is the real pay off for the user. It is in effect a points system, which is only as valuable as what you can redeem them on.
Can Gener8 Dominate?
Sam described Gener8 as a movement, and that is precisely what it will need to be. Without significant investment and rapid user adoption the danger is it fizzles out to nothing. The £60,000 he secured is nothing when you consider the amount of investment it is going to take, but Sam will have known that. The benefit of the show is the exposure, and the challenge now is to turn that into adoption.
I doubt anything I have written here will come as news to Sam. And I would imagine they are in the tech roadmap. The challenge is being able to move quickly enough to capitalise on this initial burst of exposure.
I wish him and the team luck, and am willing them to succeed. Because even if they don’t, they may still pave the way for a better value exchange in digital advertising.
Sams full pitch can be seen on the BBC YouTube Channel here Gener8 Dragons Den Pitch