Writing exclusively for ExchangeWire, Bedir Aydemir, Head of Audience and Data, Commercial, News UK and judging panel member for The Wires Global 2021, outlines key immediate challenges the digital advertising industry faces in the post-cookie environment.
I’m an optimist when it comes to digital advertising. I foresee a world where engaging adverts are placed in front of the right person, at the right time and in the right place in order to create positive real world outcomes for clients and agencies.
Below I’ve highlighted five challenges and changes we face before we reach the marketing nirvana we all seek. It’s going to be a complicated journey but one that leads us to a far better future.
1. Delays to third-party cookie deprecation signify dramatic change ahead
The testing of FLoC is currently paused in Europe. Seen as potentially in breach of the GDPR and a source of data leakage, regulators were not keen. Nor were many publishers, who saw it as just another way to take data from their sites and use it to monetise the long tail of the web. According to its critics, FLoC IDs are persistent, accessible to all, can be de-encrypted using basic contextual analysis, and can even be combined with fingerprinting to identify individuals.
Google's two-year delay shows us that rebuilding the current web ecosystem using like-for-like functionality simply won’t cut it. Whatever comes in 2023 will be far more dramatic than what we hoped for in 2021. Marketers will have to forego some of the insights they previously had and learn to work with a whole host of new partners and practises. This is not a delay, more likely this is a complete rethink.
2. ID solutions on shaky ground
Logged in users are king, so we are told. But delve a little deeper and the story is not so clear cut. The vast majority of the online universe will not be logged in and even if they were does this solve all our problems?
The ICO has suggested that email cannot be used as a like-for-like replacement to third-party cookies. In fact, email is far worse. It cannot be easily wiped, it is personally-identifiable and there is no industry standard for checking that consent was achieved at the point it was collected in the same way consent is passed via CMPs.
Plans to obfuscate email addresses seems to be the next battleground for the browsers. Apple already offers "burner" emails and Google is exploring this via WebID. This is all coupled with the constant cat and mouse games to block any form of fingerprinting.
Logged-in users still provide huge benefits for both clients and publishers. But as a system for replicating identity outside of these two entities, it’s looking increasingly unlikely.
3. The intermediary is dead, long live the intermediary
In the future, targeting will be done on a discreet, per-site basis, using data and contextual signals owned by that site alone. There will be no co-mingling of cross-site data.
Sites that can build a direct relationship with their users will be in a strong position. Consent, permissions and data will all be more readily achieved.
But no advertiser will go back to creating dozens of IOs with individual sites. Advertisers will continue to trade programmatically. So we will see the return of the ad network, the growth of standardised contextual taxonomies, and the emergence of data-matching marketplaces that not only introduce publishers to clients but allow for window shopping and sampling of segments within safe spaces.
Murky supply chains will be simplified and every vendor in this new journey will be providing a clear and valuable service. Yes, this does mean the hollowing out of the Lumascape, but new companies will spring up to replace current incumbents that will be far more valuable to both sides of the trade.
4. Big tech’s stranglehold will loosen
The regulators are coming, arguing that certain companies have too much power, own too much of the supply chain, proffer themselves an unfair advantage, or stifle competition.
New pipes will be built. One-to-one, seed to scale via lookalike modelling, and contextual and cohort-based targeting will all find a place. The difference this time will be transparency and traceability.
Publisher first-party data and identity will be passed into the bid stream replacing third-party data, either through PPID or some other means. A whole new stream of "premium programmatic" data will be traded which will not be controlled by Google. In fact, it may not use Google's pipes at all. Possibly this new ecosystem will be underpinned by the long awaited DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology).
This is a golden opportunity for both publishers and clients to not only become more compliant, but more accurate and efficient as well.
5. Personal data management platforms are coming
If you want to know who someone is and what they are into, rather than inferring this from hundreds of data signals the best way is to simply ask them. But TCF has shown us the torture of having to do this on a per site basis.
Personal DMPs (or ‘Data Vaults’) will store this information once, on behalf of the user, and share it with parties that are known and trusted in exchange for access (or money). Not only that but linked data such as health records, purchase information, anniversaries etc will also be available to create vastly enriched profiles.
Once we know who someone is, can tell if they saw an ad and can see if they bought the product, everything else simply disappears.
Scaremongers have said the death of the cookie means that this type of multi touch, multi-site attribution will only get harder post-third-party cookies. Don’t believe them. The GDPR already lays the groundwork (data is owned by the individual, must be translatable to any other site, and must be transferable on request). The type of Distributed Ledger Technology needed to control this at a user level is coming. As attribution models become highly accurate, the value of upper- and lower-funnel touchpoints are truly understood. Pointless retargeting and an obsession with performance over brand becomes a thing of the past. More than anything, this will be the biggest change we see to marketing and advertising.
There will be numerous challenges along the way. Once people realise they can get paid for their data they will start to game the system, visiting sites, or declaring interests, just to be placed in the most valuable cohorts. Online misrepresentation will become a big issue. But regardless of these challenges there is no doubt that the next few years will be an exciting period for ad tech as we head towards a far better future.
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