Athar Zia believes there is a disconnect in the advertising industry. On the one hand, the advent of social media platforms and other digital channels has created opportunities for businesses to launch and grow in completely new ways. On the other, building advertising strategies to maximise the potential of these platforms is rooted in the traditional practices of the industries, based on slow and manual processes that never quite seem to deliver the value promised.
“Advertising and buying media serves as the growth engine for so many companies and we have seen how technology has enhanced creative outputs on so many levels,” says Zia, who is the CEO and co-founder of BLKBOX. “But there has been no innovation in large parts of the wider industry, especially for media buyers; it remains a manual and time-consuming affair and prone to human error.”
BLKBOX claims it will close this disconnect. Zia’s big idea is that an automated and intelligent media platform should enable advertisers both to dramatically reduce the inefficiencies of the current buying process and also enhance their returns on investment.
The business was born out of the experience of Zia and co-founder Jay Shah, who both previously worked at Facebook managing advertising spending for companies using the social media giant to grow their businesses. The duo because accustomed to clients’ frustration at the mechanics of buying advertising, which required them to constantly work their way through the different permutations of where and how to spend their money to generate the best response.
At some businesses, Zia explains, teams of buyers are spending six hours a day simply crunching through tweaks and adjustments to try to identify the most value-additive buying choices. Even then, there is no guarantee that they will maximise the potential of their spend.
In place of this manual approach, BLKBOX offers an automated solution, helping advertisers to book the best approach spots using intelligent algorithms that replace the manual work. “It is all about minimising the effort that the business needs to put in so that it can scale profitably,” Zia explains.
The business, launched just over 12 months ago, claims impressive results from the customer base with which it has worked to fine-tune the software. BLKBOX says it can reduce campaign management time from six hours a day to six minutes and help clients quickly scale their advertising spend three times’ over. That success has seen it move from a gated approach, working with a handful of clients, to a broader market launch this month.
Advertisers remain responsible for developing the creative materials in their campaigns, but simply hand these over to BKLBOX, along with details of their budget and the key metrics they are aiming for. Based on this information, the company’s algorithms build and implement a tailor-made strategy for clients.
Initially, BLKBOX is focusing on clients placing advertising on Facebook, but the technology is easily adapted to other platforms. Within the next year, Zia plans to launch similar services for clients that are targeting Google, TikTok, Snapchat, Apple, Twitter and Ad Networks.
Zia is confident there is plenty of market to go at. The digital advertising marketplace is valued at around $380bn a year, he points out, and he is confident that BLKBOX’s pitch can help it win a slice of this. “Our overall aim is to turn anyone, regardless of experience, into a best-in-class media buyer,” he says. “This will enable companies to scale faster, focusing on making products and creating experiences that their customers want.”
The company’s launch comes at a potentially pivotal moment for the digital advertising market, which also plays to BLKBOX’s advantage. The growing focus on data privacy will make it increasingly difficult for advertisers to persist with the approach they have used on digital platforms to date. Technology companies such as Apple are moving away from a world where advertisers have access to data on individuals’ browsing habits and spending decisions, making it tough to build advertising strategies based on this insight.
“The readily available nature of data until now has held back innovation on the buying side of advertising,” argues Zia. “But the future of digital advertising will lie in much greater innovation.”
BLKBOX hopes its platform, operating on a software-as-a-service model will prove popular with businesses large and small looking for ways to move forward in this new world. The company points to its success in punching above its weight. In June, BLKBOX was announced as one of three winners of the Facebook Business Hackathon, a competition designed to identify technologies that could help companies scale growth. With contestants judged against four criteria – innovation, impact, socially positivity and shippability – BLKBOX shared the plaudits with Microsoft and SAP.
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