If another occupation is the “world’s oldest profession,” advertising must be a close second with a history that dates back to at least ancient Egypt. It’s also one of the world’s most lucrative. The art of linking those offering stuff to those who want said stuff has spawned an industry in which companies were expected to spend nearly 558 billion US dollars in 2018. The world’s largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, spent over 10 billion US dollars in advertising in 2015 alone.
This is the industry weBloc wants to disrupt.
CSO Wusic We says, “We want to take the value from the advertiser-centered system and bring it to a user-centered one.”
An official advertising partner of ICON, weBloc is striving to shift the paradigm of advertising by using blockchain to not only compensating the user – i.e., the person viewing the advertisement – for their contributions to the advertising ecosystem, but also by giving the user input over the kinds of advertisements they see, creating a hitherto unseen level of reciprocity between advertisers and the people they are trying to reach. In doing so, they also hope to rationalize the advertising ecosystem, to eliminate unnecessary middlemen, reorganize the price structure and bring a bit of transparency to the advertising process.
Putting the user back into the equation
Prior to joining the weBloc project in April, We spent years working in advertising analysis and development for Korean tech giants Naver and Kakao. He also started Korea’s first mobile advertising network, Cauly. His move to weBloc, however, encouraged him to reflect on his chosen line.
“I’ve been involved in advertising for a while, so I could think about a lot of things,” he says. “While working at Korean portals such as Naver or Kakao, we had plan advertising products that could get the most advertising money. And when showing the ads, we focused on algorithms that would show first the ads that could receive the most advertising money. When I came here, I thought about the user side for the first time.”
And what he realized was that the existing advertising ecosystem had no place for the user other than as a passive entity. “The existing system is centered on advertising costs,” he says. “If an advertiser spends 10 dollars, the advertising agency takes about 20-30 percent for profit. The media takes about 60 percent. It’s a structure where everyone is dividing up and taking the advertising costs for themselves.”
“Ads are completed when the users come and see the ad, click on it or actually participate in something. But they aren’t being compensated by the ad agencies or the advertisers.”
The weBloc platform rewards users by tokenizing their participation in advertising. Users earn WIP tokens for providing information about purchase intentions or evaluating advertisements. They can also earn WEB tokens by making contributions to the weBloc ecosystem and by holding tokens. They can exchange these WIP for WEB tokens, weBloc’s main token, which in turn can be exchanged for fiat.
weBloc also brings improved security to users by furthering transparency. The platform won’t sell your data while you’re not looking. “I did that in my previous jobs. It was more serious than I thought,” says We, noting that while big companies at least make users opt in before collecting and selling their data, small companies often use notices on their homepages, notices that you, the user, can’t see until you’ve already surfed in, by which time it’s too late. weBloc, on the other hand, collects only the data the user inputs themselves, and the transparency of blockchain means users can see exactly what’s being done with their information.
Building an alliance
weBloc isn’t the only project out there trying to put blockchain to use in advertising. The Basic Attention Token and related Brave Browser allow users to block all advertisements and tracking save for the ones the users allow. AdEx, meanwhile, uses blockchain to directly connect advertisers and publishers, though with few details about fee structure or how its smart contracts work, it remains at the conceptual stage.
The weBloc platform differs, however, in that is trying to create a Tokenized Advertising Alliance Protocol in which all parties in the advertising process – advertisers, media, users and even middlemen – can benefit. This win-win ecosystem is much more likely to win converts than more radical options.
Though weBloc, a project started by ICON advertising partner AD4th Insight, is well positioned to create this ecosystem, it isn’t easy getting advertisers and ad people onboard.
“We are middlemen in the exiting digital advertising space. We’ve formed relationships with a variety of partners, but since we’ve announced we’re creating an advertising system based on blockchain, well, in fact, many people don’t know what blockchain is,” says We. “It’s difficult to talk with them, beginning with the basic concept. They find it difficult to understand what cryptocurrency is or what sets the system apart, so it’s hard to explain everything, I think.”
It’s not as if there’s a lot out there to compare weBloc with, either. When the mobile advertising market blossomed in Korea, there were plenty of successful companies in the United States and elsewhere to benchmark. Not so with blockchain, however. “It’s a lot of pressure to show people a working blockchain platform that’s distinct from the legacy platforms,” says We. “And we have to move fast.”
Getting in early has its advantages, though, he says. “We’ve entered early and made this ecosystem, and we’re providing a DApp and a protocol to create a route for moving from the existing ecosystem, so we think we can seize the market first.”
weBloc will unleash its reward ad platform in the fourth quarter of this year, possibly November. Network ads will come in the first quarter of next year.
In second quarter of next year, the weBloc platform will begin giving users actual input over the ads they see. Users now have little choice regarding ads, says We, their options limited to using ad blockers or erasing their cookies. “We thought that no matter how much data advertisers gather to target users, they couldn’t target them well. We got enough evidence of this over the last couple of years,” he says. “We thought the best way to target users is to give the users a choice. We are preparing for the second quarter of next year a user intention-based advertising platform that gives users input over tastes and direction and delivers ads based on them.”
weBloc is promoting the development of blockchain in Korea in more fundamental ways, too. The company was the first to take advantage of Jeju’s drive to become Korea’s blockchain hub, opening on the island a corporation, weBloc Asia. It also intends to become the first Korean blockchain company to conduct its ICO in Korea (*link in Korean), where initial token offerings have been effectively banned since September of last year. Steve Cho, head of weBloc’s global business development, said, “Our team will be the very first Korean blockchain project that is having its foundation in Korea, launching the token generation event in Korea on a legal basis.”