ATS London 2021: Reframing The Future Of Our Industry


Google said its long goodbye to third-party ad tech last week. In a typically ambiguous post, the company explained to the world that it would no longer use cross-site identifiers in its browser or across its ad tech stack. All in the name of privacy, allegedly.

To be frank, Google’s post left more questions than answers. The news sent the industry into a frenzy.

Most of us are in a state of general confusion, but there is one thing we can all be certain of: Google is bringing down the curtain on the tracking and measurement of third-party identifiers and cookies.

The old model is finished - no matter how hard we try to sustain it. The platforms, the browsers, or the W3C, are not going to acquiesce to the wishes of the ad industry. That ship has truly sailed.

This really is the ‘evolve or die’ moment for the industry.

Let’s rip it up and start again

Digital marketing stands at a crossroads. With the deprecation of third-party cookies, restrictions on use of identifiers, and the passing of strict privacy legislation, our industry has to rethink how it markets to consumers.

The old ways of measuring and targeting are no longer possible. Marketers are facing a more fragmented media landscape, and the walled gardens (Google, specifically) are using a convenient privacy shield to bolster their own businesses, ensuring their own survival. In a world where first-party data is king, queen, and everything in between, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, rule with impunity.

So the question you need to ask yourself now: is this the end of independent ad tech? And indeed the end of the open internet?

The answer is a resounding NO. ExchangeWire sees it more as a rebirth.

With Google abandoning third-party ad tech and the open internet, it is leaving a massive blank canvas to reimagine how we measure, target, and market, to consumers.

This decade represents the biggest opportunity ever for our industry to build privacy-first solutions for both marketers and publishers, that expand across every inch of the digital media and commerce landscape.

Ad tech and digital marketing are much bigger than Google

It’s easy to get caught up in doomsday narratives about Google steamrolling us all.

It’s not as if it hasn't been doing this since it entered the digital advertising space at the beginning of the century. Every acquisition it has made (DoubleClick, YouTube, Admeld, and Invite) has been a step closer to total domination across search, video, and display advertising.

Nobody should hold any ill will towards the company. Google's decision to throw the industry under a bus is one it probably had to make. A combination of ‘privacy’ and dwindling margins clearly motivated the company to act. Self-interest is baked into its DNA.

If this were five years ago, I would probably have been more concerned about this Google move. The world has moved on: the 2021 media landscape is a lot more complicated than it has ever been.

Sure, Google owns search, display and the online video market. Yes, it has Chrome and Android, and it has also got all that first-party data. Its future growth is secured as it funnels all that demand and spend into owned and operated tech and media that takes 100% margin.

If your business is dependent on the Google ecosystem, you are in trouble. And if you think FLoC will save performance advertising, you SERIOUSLY need to be thinking of a career change. Depending on the goodwill of Google is arguably the dumbest business model in digital.

The good news for everyone is that Google is not omnipotent across the trillion-plus-dollar digital marketing landscape. There are areas where they are weak and nonexistent:

  • Google is just as hamstrung across the Apple environment as the rest of us;
  • The rise of first-party platforms and publishers locks out Google (which is great for publishers);
  • It has YouTube, but CTV content companies and platforms have, for the most part, kept the big G at arm’s length;
  • DOOH, a multibillion-dollar opportunity, is but a minor integration play for Google;
  • Emerging channels like audio, gaming and VR are still very much open to anyone;
  • and let’s not forget the trillion-dollar commerce media space Google is struggling to get into.


Apple’s privacy crusade

Apple has positioned privacy as a key marketing strategy. Tim Cook has taken it upon himself to protect your 'human rights' by denying third parties the ability to target or measure activity across iOS and Safari. The new Apple privacy mantra is clear: if you buy our products, we will make you safe.

This is all very hypocritical - especially from a company that is clearly trying to open up a new multi-billion-dollar revenue stream. Having stripped out any third-party measurement and targeting, you can be sure the company will push its app store advertising and privacy-first targeting.

Apple is playing hard and fast with privacy. It is happily skipping around GDPR requirements with its ATT rollout. From what we have seen thus far, there is no actual hard opt-out for all advertising tracking on Apple devices. There are also questions hanging over its own tracking solution SKAdNetwork.

Despite the pleas and exasperations from various industry bodies, Apple is not for turning. It’ll make its own rules. That is its own prerogative.

This is yet another issue that we will have to grapple with this year. But again, at ExchangeWire, we see this is a positive.

Apple does not innovate, it collects ‘rent’ on past product glories. I don’t see it developing new solutions for the digital marketers or the apps running on its platforms - another massive opportunity for the rest of the industry.

What about marketers and publishers?

I have never been more bullish on the publisher. It genuinely feels like they are realising the opportunity that lies in front of them, they have accelerated their first-party data collection strategies to offer marketers post-cookie buying opportunities.

A lot of them have built out blended models, combining subscriptions, advertising, and commerce, to push growth. Reach and Future are perfect examples of this. The much-maligned publisher model is about to have an exceptional decade.

The marketer could be forgiven for seeing this Google move as a disaster, having lost a key piece of one-to-one marketing infrastructure.

But really they should see it as the perfect opportunity to rebuild marketing strategies and attribution models across all channels, shifting dependence away from the walled gardens.

I believe the innovation around areas like contextual and clean room tech will reshape how marketers allocate digital spend, leading to smarter buying and a move away from flawed measurement models (see Google and Facebook).

Reframing the future of our industry

We are already seeing some amazing companies emerging which are building for a post-Google future. I am particularly excited about the privacy-first measurement and targeting companies that are aiming to help marketers and publishers reimagine digital marketing.

At ATS London this year, we aim to map out this potential for the ad tech and the digital marketing sector for the next ten years.

We will showcase the publishers, marketers, service layer vendors, and technology companies, innovating around - and through - the ‘rentier capitalist’ models of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon.

This is not the time to throw in the towel and become subservient to the avian-titled walled garden metric of FLoC.

It is time for us all to move beyond our walled garden dependency, and participate in the next iteration of our industry.

We look forward to seeing you all at ATS London in November.

ATS London 2021 - Reframing the Future of Marketing & Advertising - takes place on 3rd-4th November. Early-bird tickets are now available to purchase via the ExchangeWire events portal.