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Addressing uncertainty: testing addressability with programmatic curation

April 10, 2024 | By Megan Sullivan‑Jenks, Director, Product Marketing, Supply & Commerce Grid – Criteo @criteo
The topline: Digital advertising is evolving. The impending changes to addressability, the continued shift to programmatic buying, and the proliferation of new digital identifiers highlight the need for better solutions across the ecosystem.

In the new reality for digital media, advertisers will require a multifaceted approach to targeting and attribution. This approach includes the use of alternative IDs, first-party data, contextual and Google’s Privacy Sandbox (PSB). However, understanding where to invest time, resources, and money, is proving to be a challenge for many media companies.

Curation: A programmatic advertising multi-tool

Programmatic curation can be an indispensable tool to alleviate some of the issues created by the deprecation of third-party cookies.

But what is curation? Programmatic curation is the process of packaging data and supply from a variety of partners into unique private marketplace-based deals, which can then be activated on the buy side though any DSP.  This process is different from simple deals-based trading, where a publisher packages its own inventory into a deal ID to offer buyers.

Curation creates a more fluid and interoperable supply and data marketplace. A publisher can package its own supply with someone else’s data to satisfy advertiser needs. Or a data owner can package its data with supply from publishers they don’t know to create a data-enriched inventory package to satisfy advertiser interests.

Because curation relies on existing programmatic processes, it’s a quick and straightforward way for both the sell and buy side to transact. In fact, curated deals can be created and activated in a matter of minutes using the same programmatic platforms and pipes which already power thousands of private marketplace (PMP) deals every day.  It also ensures that publishers are on the receiving end of premium media budgets from advertisers without worrying about data leakage.

By bundling premium data—including addressability signals—with media, curation can act as a bridge between ad inventory and audience data, something that becomes increasingly important as third-party cookie deprecation draws closer.

Layering advertising addressability signals

Programmatic curation is being used by advertisers to test out various addressability solutions, as they map their approach to a post-cookie world. Working directly with a single publisher or across a network of preferred publisher partners, advertisers can curate inventory based on the presence (or absence) of specific addressability signals. This allows them to run side-by-side tests to understand the relative impact and scale of each solution. Some of the signals that advertisers are using curation to test are: Alternative IDs, Google’s Privacy Sandbox, and first party data.

Alternative IDs

There are several dozens of Alternative IDs in use today across the programmatic ecosystem, looking to replicate much of the third-party cookie’s functionality in more privacy-preserving ways. These IDs can be free or can come at a cost. They can be deterministic or probabilistic. They can be open sourced, or privately operated. In all cases, though, they require some level of effort by both brands and publishers to implement, maintain, and evaluate for efficacy.

Advertisers can use programmatic curation to test the effectiveness of different ID solutions by creating unique supply packages, executed via a deal ID, based on the isolated presence of a specific ID in the bidstream. Keeping everything else the same, advertisers can see how effective different IDs are at driving specific campaign outcomes. Once they’ve determined what works best for them, they can then work directly with publishers to increase the penetration of those IDs in the bidstream to ensure scale.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox

Like Alternative IDs, addressability signals from Google’s Privacy Sandbox APIs can also be packaged with publisher supply. These signals are currently available on 1% of traffic from the Chrome browser and can be used as a point of comparison with other addressability signals to see which drives better outcomes for the publisher’s demand partners.

Advertisers can leverage Google Topics signals in curated deal IDs to test the scale across multiple publishers within their preferred DSPs. While limited to the signals collected from the Topics API, advertisers can begin building out A/B tests with curation to compare addressability and performance without relying upon their DSP to fully support PSB.

While stable testing has only begun in March 2024, publishers should prioritize analyzing PSB signal impact and assessing performance as the PSB may be a key driver in a publisher’s addressability strategy after the full deprecation of third-party cookies on Chrome. In addition, as PSB testing scales, advertisers should be able to capitalize on using other addressability signals from the Privacy Sandbox APIs.

Publishers’ first party data

The first-party data publishers hold on every visitor to their website(s) is incredibly valuable to advertisers. And their ability to use that audience on other supply go double once third-party cookies disappear for good. Historically, this has been a sticking point with publishers. That’s because to allow advertisers to target their audiences outside of owned and operated environments (aka audience extension), they would traditionally need to relinquish some control of their data—and they won’t necessarily get it back.

With curation, first-party data can be protected. By layering publisher first-party data into curated deals using third-party inventory, or using it as a centralized match key, publishers can drive incremental revenue without the need to give media buyers direct access to their audience data. They’re always in the driving seat.

Addressability testing and timelines

Curation can package these data signals within existing programmatic workflows that media buyers use day in, day out. That means that programmatic curation is a natural fit for publishers looking to monetize their audiences in a low-friction way. 

Future-focused digital advertising solutions

Third-party cookies have already been deprecated on Safari, Firefox, and Edge browsers, as well as on 1% of Chrome traffic. This provides a unique time-limited opportunity for publishers to test out what works best for their inventory, and for media buyers to partner with publishers to activate these strategies closer to supply. 

Nonetheless, there will not be a panacea for addressability: Digital media companies will need to combine different addressability solutions to ensure that they are maximizing the return on their inventory. By using curation, publishers can test different strategies within their existing programmatic workflows to ensure that they are not leaving revenue on the table.

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