“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Today's column is written by Drew Bradstock, senior vice president of product at Index Exchange.
People-based marketing, in which publisher and advertiser first-party data is employed to target users across devices, is hotly debated as the new standard for attribution.
For it to be truly effective, however, large volumes of publishers seeing many users across many devices are required. But this type of data is not housed by a single vendor outside of a few well-known tech giants, which are not likely to open up their graphs.
This is why publishers have been partnering with their former rivals to achieve greater scale and impact from user data and insights. One such collaboration is a consortium (Index Exchange is a launch partner) that will help buyers and publishers leverage a common identifier that, with broad adoption, would drive more value than industry silos with proprietary IDs.
The consortium is part of a larger industry trend in which former competitors are coming together for the better whole of the ecosystem. While this effort is a great step forward toward the promise of collaboration, it doesn’t come without its challenges and detractors.
The Age-Old Cookie Dilemma
Our industry has been dependent on cookies as long for as I’ve worked in ad tech, and many argue there’s no need for additional complexity in the identity framework. It’s true that cookies are a great tool for browser-based environments, and they’ve proven to be extremely useful in gathering information from those who use just a single screen to browse the web. However, this data is no longer sufficient given the plethora of devices now used to consume content.
Since cookies only live on the browser, they are ineffective at tracking user activity from one device to another. As such, they run the risk of bombarding users with the same ad repeatedly, interpreting each device as a unique user and breaking the spirit and value of frequency capping. This has led to ad fatigue by users and is definitely helping accelerate the use of ad blockers.
We all need to learn the lesson from Flash's slow demise. Our industry's unwillingness to move on from old tech and embrace new options has led to a poor user experience and even poorer campaign results. While cookies are an important asset to achieving a unified outlook, they’re only one piece of the puzzle.
Layering Cookies With More Data
If cookies were combined with device IDs and user logins, a graph could be created to paint a comprehensive portrait of a user by capturing his or her activity across devices.
In theory, the value of this information could open a world of opportunity for advertisers and limit the number of irrelevant ads for consumers. In practice, adding an additional layer of complexity means a number of independent companies would need to take their identifiers already built within their framework and rework the tech to align with other companies’ proprietary data.
This is no easy task and requires resources and alignment from disparate partners, but the end result could unlock targeting that is more valuable to publishers and advertisers alike.
Let’s say a subscription-based video streaming service wanted to run a campaign against users it suspects are considering canceling their accounts. Knowing the time between users’ logins and their email addresses, it could, with the help of a unified identifier, recognize those users and leverage programmatic buying to catch them at the perfect moment alongside premium, brand-safe content. This type of targeting against real users is not available at scale outside of the few largest tech companies. Without scale, most independent companies and publishers are at a disadvantage in convincing buyers to invest time and resources to support their graphs.
Banding Together To Offer Choice
The technology underpinning people-based marketing is not new. What’s now possible is the chance for widespread identity collaboration across independent media and ad tech companies, which can ultimately bring more choice to consumers.
I must say that I never saw this type of collaboration as a possibility even a year ago. However, with other cooperative initiatives, such as the adoption of ads.txt across buyers and sellers and the increasing collaboration across exchanges via header bidding, I truly believe we may be able to create a common ID that will set our industry up for long-term success. Through collective initiatives and advancements, I do believe we can create thoughtful solutions to the problems that have plagued programmatic buying for years.
Though ad tech traditionally does not have a great reputation for collaboration, people-based marketing is clearly a case in which a rising tide lifts all boats.