Identity in a World without Cookies

With the recent announcement that Google will take until 2023 to fully depreciate its support for 3rd party cookies and deploy its Privacy Sandbox solution across its market-leading web browser, Chrome, we now have a moment to understand what the future holds for Digital Targeting and Identity resolution in a post-3rd party cookie world. We will now look at how advertisers and publishers, together with ad technology partners can navigate to the new world of a data aware society.

Publisher Relationships with Ad Tech

One certainty that will come with Google’s move, is that things cannot remain the same with how media is traded digitally. With an emphasis on the media owner needing to elevate the value of its inventory by enriching it with their own 1st party data, the power balance will shift back to those publishers who have their valuable 1st party data organised and ready to use.

If publishers are to be given more say in how inventory is valued and viewed, then there will need to be a change in the underlying infrastructure that facilitates digital media trading today. ID5 is an organisation that provides top publishers and ad tech platforms with a universal ID solution that enables user-level identification, without relying on third-party cookies. This is their view:

Publishers still need ways to send signals out for their valuable audiences. ID5 believes that there should not necessarily need to be a change in how advertisers and publishers work together but rather how publishers communicate their value in their users and audiences. 

ID5 provides the technology backbone to support an ID-based solution that helps media owners navigate the new data privacy regulations. It also helps media owners to find ways of working that complement their own revenue operations.

Another publisher-centric solution that firmly encourages the media owner to be front and centre of valuing its inventory (in a privacy-compliant manner), is Data Management platform, Permutive. They use the publisher’s own 1st party data in what they have termed their ‘Description ID,’ solution. An aggregated and anonymous publisher-side ID collation, such as say a Football Interest audience, can provide an almost real-time generated and accurate inventory segmentation, ready to target..

The Advertising Buyer

Buyers across media agencies are receptive to all solutions that help their clients to maintain (and in some cases even improve), their audience and user targeting capabilities.

As some agency heads have noted, it is nothing new (when we see the resurgence of contextual advertising solutions), but rather an evolution. And that is the key point here: we are not rolling back the years but, rather, taking a solid form of advertising and overlaying the latest technology and data products to produce a 2.0 solution in the age of privacy awareness. Indeed agencies and their end advertising clients have already begun the process of testing new solutions to identity and privacy issues. As we saw with IDFA changes and the GDPR, brands do care about data privacy – they just need a nudge in the right direction, it seems.

Other issues, such as re-evaluating user engagement and experience are as equally as pressing as that of data privacy in a climate of rapid digital transformation. But with the very same technology stacks delivering both, they are ultimately intertwined.

From reaction to solution, agencies are producing tangible results. For example, Wavemaker’s 3PC solution – a 3rd party, cookieless solution programme for its clients to understand the scale of the deprecation’s impact and where they need to create change. The programme stress tests third-party cookieless solutions on client activity, covering various sectors and analyses different forms of identity resolution. Or Magnite and the IAB’s Tech Lab working on a solution to use 1st party data segments from both buy and sell sides. They also are testing this to work via Pre-Bid auction unifications. And let’s not forget buying platforms such as Captify have had a cookieless, 1st party, search-powered solution for years.

Publisher Data Strategies

On this side of the supply chain, there are two types of publishers emerging: the proactive and risk-averse entities and the reactive ones. Reactive publishers seek to complete a change as large sections of the global economy fulfil, just in time.

Ask the proactive media owner more specifically and they will tell you that they have been preparing for this day for years. There are those publishers who started working on reducing cookie reliance after Apple’s ITP feature launch as far back as four years ago. Those early movers’ concerns were further justified by the GDPR rollout that followed the year after. Now, these publishers have already developed sophisticated 1st party data strategies that are bearing the fruit of stabilised revenue growth during uncertain times. 

Diversification on top of a well-rounded data strategy has also helped this group of publishers to expand and even grow yield at a time when economic signals are not as strong as they used to be. A great example of this is Global’s re-imagination of audio and the creation of Digital Audio as a premium advertising channel. Another is Future’s unrelenting growth, which has enabled them to recently acquire e-commerce comparison giant, Go Compare. The latter is an example of both acquiring large amounts of highly valuable 1st party data and also diversifying into e-commerce at the same time. 

Even publishers that have traditionally relied heavily on 3rd party data trading are realising the value of subscriptions, registration gates and even data bunkering for valuable 1st party data trading or targeting. The day of overreliance on 3rd party data in its wild and free form may well be coming to an end, and maybe before Google says it will.

The Era of Defined Data Relationships

All of the above requires understanding of a true value exchange between user and online content in an ad supported business model. This understanding needs to bring about and maintain high levels of acceptance in order to bring widespread traction and adoption. As part of that adoption process, both the publisher and the advertiser need to ensure that users’ wishes are respected on data control and privacy, if there is to be a meaningful and structural change in the online advertising industry. We need only to look at the latest figures for the surge in CTV’s SVOD market size, to see the price of getting this wrong. Audiences will vote against ads with their feet.

To the buyer in digital media, it has always been a tricky balancing act of user confidence and trust in data use versus a client’s targeting and measurement requirements. Attribution is already affected by privacy clampdowns, especially in browsers, with sufficient disruption already occurring from past privacy-first moves. Now really is the time to fix targeting and measurement before consumer trust erodes to zero.

The trend among brands that operate an e-commerce platform has been to have a data privacy strategy that requires the least possible change that the law allows and just about the same as the competition. This strategy is being called into the spotlight more than ever before, as we see reports of the emergence of a whole new group of online users – the ‘Privacy Actives.’ According to Cisco in their 2019 survey, 32% of participants said that they do care about privacy, are willing to act, and have done so by switching companies or providers over data or data-sharing policies. 

Getting your online data privacy policy wrong today looks to be potentially as damaging to brand reputation as any other branding error of judgement. On top of this, publishers need to be much more in charge of their inventory data enrichment and segmentation. These are the reasons why we have already started to see the sea change across buyers, middleware and brands. By 2023, when Google does finally phase out 3rd party cookies in Chrome, the industry will most likely have already said farewell. And that is not a bad thing.