Albert Thompson, Digital Innovator Reacts: The Trade Desk’s Controversial Top 100 List

In an exclusive interview, Albert Thompson, Managing Director of Digital at Walton Isaacson, dissects The Trade Desk’s controversial Top 100 List. Thompson shares candid insights on the list’s implications for publishers, advertisers, and the future of digital advertising.

The Trade Desk’s recent release of its Top 100 List has sent ripples through the digital advertising ecosystem, sparking more drama than the latest season of your favorite reality show. 

Known for its influential role in the ad tech ecosystem, The Trade Desk’s move to create this list has sparked a range of reactions from industry experts, publishers, and advertisers alike. I sat down with Albert Thompson, Managing Director of Digital at Walton Isaacson, to get the lowdown on what this really means for publishers and advertisers.

Unveiling the List

Thompson, a seasoned professional with over 20 years of experience in advertising and marketing, provided an in-depth analysis of what The Trade Desk’s Top 100 List means for the industry and whether it reshapes the narrative of what constitutes “premium” in the digital advertising space.

“The idea of a premium internet, according to who? Premium according to what?” he questioned, pointing out that this feels like a throwback to the ComScore ratings. Remember when anything under a million visits was considered chopped liver? Yeah, we’re not trying to go back there.

The Debate Over “Premium”

Thompson didn’t mince words, emphasizing that the concept of premium status is subjective and often exclusionary. The list is as subjective as picking the best pizza in NYC. “It lacks culture, which is intrinsic to what people desire the most,” he said. While intended to highlight quality, it misses considerable cultural and contextual factors that define digital consumption today. The Top 100 might have the heavy hitters, but it’s missing the soulful, indie corners of the internet where niche communities thrive.

Attention vs. Viewability 

In the age of TikTok and viral cat videos, capturing attention is the real MVP. Thompson emphasized that we’re in an “attention era,” not just about how long an ad is seen but how deeply it engages. The Top 100 List might focus on viewability, but where’s the love for those who master the art of holding our ever-fleeting attention spans?

Thompson underscored a crucial shift: from valuing ‘viewability’ to ‘attention.’ In an era where capturing consumer attention is paramount, a list based solely on viewability metrics might not accurately reflect the real engagement levels and consumer decision paths. This shift raises questions about the relevance and utility of the Top 100 List for marketers who must navigate an increasingly fragmented digital landscape. 

Exclusions and Their Implications

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – the glaring omissions. Critics argue that by not including diverse and culturally rich platforms, The Trade Desk might be inadvertently sidelining important voices. “Where are the Web3 platforms, AI-powered sites, luxury brands, women-centric brands, BIPOC communities?” Thompson asked. This exclusion could divert precious ad dollars away from these crucial players, leaving them out in the cold.

The Concept of Gated Communities

Thompson made a poignant point about the creation of digital gated communities. “Are we looking at an agenda where those with the most resources define what’s best for everyone else?” It’s a digital class divide, and those not on the list might feel like they’re on the wrong side of the tracks.

Global Implications 

The discussion expanded to the global stage, where Thompson questioned the relevance of an American-centric ‘premium’ concept for international audiences. “What do we say to the global internet? Is this the version of premium for people in Nigeria, the UK, or Africa? Because contextually, there’s a lot missing from this conversation.” He pointed out that the list lacks context for non-U.S. markets, potentially alienating global players.

The Role of Code on Page Intelligence 

Another key focus of the conversation was the significant shift in how digital activity is monitored and analyzed. Forget cookies; it’s all about code-on-page intelligence now. Thompson explained this as the new gold standard for measuring user engagement. It’s like knowing what people actually do with their food instead of just knowing they’ve got it on their plate. This approach could redefine what makes digital real estate valuable.

Code-on-page intelligence is a more accurate measure of user engagement and content relevance than traditional session data and cookies. This approach offers deeper insights into consumer behavior, potentially redefining what constitutes valuable digital real estate.

What Should Publishers Do? 

Thompson’s advice to publishers? Double down on your unique value and communicate that to brands. “Assert your will and relevance,” he urged. Focus on verticalization – organize content and advertising strategies by specific market segments (e.g., automotive, beauty, finance). Cater specifically to niche markets and make your unique content indispensable to brands. his method could help publishers carve out a niche and remain competitive, even if they don’t make it onto lists like The Trade Desk’s Top 100. 

Adapt and Innovate

Thompson reassured that while lists like The Trade Desk’s Top 100 have their place, they should not be the sole determinant of a digital platform’s value. “Highlighting top players is fine, but to suggest they are the only ones that matter is ludicrous,” he concluded. 

The conversation underscores the need for a more inclusive and contextually rich understanding of ‘premium’. In a digital world as diverse and dynamic as ours, success will come to those who adapt, innovate, and stay true to their unique value propositions.