Ari Bluman, a digital agency pioneer known for a no-BS attitude and a combative spirit unique in the industry, passed away this week of cancer. He was 44.
Bluman, who was most recently chief digital investment officer at GroupM, was widely known as a creative and ambitious mind in the industry. He leaves behind a legacy of pushing the industry towards more reliable programmatic advertising and a better understanding of viewability, and changing the lives of the people who worked in the business.
“Ari Bluman was a special human being who I was truly honored to know,” said Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia. “Ari was unique in our business.”
Bluman, who was the first person to hold the role of chief digital investment officer at GroupM, spent most of his career at WPP-owned Real Media Group, where he was president, North America, before joining the GroupM in 2012.
Industry executives said that while his contributions were endless, he is probably best known for pushing more for control against industry issues like ad fraud by moving shops into the private marketplaces where agencies — and clients — held the power. Along with that, he was also known for a straightforward attitude that ultimately helped the industry innovate and improve.
“He never nuanced anything. You always knew where he stood and why,” said Morgan. “One of the best and smartest and most enjoyable people I’ve ever spent time with. I’m going to miss him so much.”
That attitude was on display in 2014, when Bluman, along with GroupM and client Unilever, pushed publishers for more proof of viewability of ads — a stringent and controversial demand at the time, compared with the guidelines the IAB had put forward. “An ad that’s not seen is not worth less, it’s worth zero. Zero,” Bluman said at an event in February of 2015.
He similarly made waves when he said GroupM would stop buying from open ad exchanges entirely, saying he was worried about quality control issues and the lack of transparency those exchanges provided.
In a memo sent to the entire company Tuesday, Irwin Gotlieb, chairman at GroupM, wrote:
Friends and colleagues,
As some of you may have already heard, it is with the greatest regret that we inform you of the passing of Ari Bluman.
Many of you will be aware that Ari has been terribly ill for many months and know that he has been brave, almost beyond imagining, in the face of circumstances that few could tolerate.
Ari’s contribution to our business survives him. His work on bringing order to chaos in digital marketing led the industry and created unique value for us all. Ari was a pioneer and innovator, brashly demanding higher standards, better performance, and accountability. He did this not to benefit himself, but to improve the industry he loved and helped to create. Ari changed the lives of literally thousands of people in our industry who attribute their success to his principles and his relentless pursuit of truth in digital advertising.
We can only hope to leave a similar legacy as business people and friends. We can only hope to live our own lives with the same determination and effect.
The passing of a friend is always tragic. It surfaces emotions that are profound and personal. This could not be more true than today.
Today we honor Ari Bluman. We mourn his passing, we cry for his wife, the indefatigable Deb, his family and we celebrate all he did with us, for us and what he leaves us.
There will never be another Ari Bluman. He was “always working,” but more importantly, always leading, and always improving the people around him.