The future of cookies is unknown and much of the industry
is scrambling to maintain consumer confidence in the digital advertising
ecosystem. At the heart of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt is consumer
privacy. The challenge of our industry is not the cookie. The challenge is that
we have progressively lost customer confidence and it’s time to get it back
Enter Project Rearc. At IAB’s Annual Leadership Conference, there was much discussion of the post-cookie world. “Project Rearc,” as in re-architecture, was also introduced; it calls on IAB members to build a replacement for third party cookies. In an effort to “rebuild” the digital advertising ecosystem, Project Rearc is asking the industry to develop a new identifier that works across browsers, adheres to privacy standards and doesn’t rely on third-party cookies.
The spirit of Project
Rearc is good in principle. It’s the first attempt to create a neutral
environment for all players to collaborate and discuss potential options. It is
still in its early stage, however the main principle is to “put consumers at
the center of everything we do.” That is the exact kind of thinking we’ll need
to do as an industry.
are the existing Unique ID solutions?
Unique ID solutions were initially created to optimize
the cookie-matching process. The idea is pretty simple: running a single synchronization
instead of one per ad-tech partner. So, by definition and despite the hype
around it, these solutions fully rely on 3rd-party cookies.
An exception is Liveramp, which uses IDL (for Identify
Link). IDL can work without cookies by associating an ID to an online
identifier such as a mail address. This is neither a novel, nor optimal approach.
we win back consumer confidence?
Cookies are not the real problem today. Privacy is now a
real public concern. The problem is not about how the user is identified and
tracked. The problem is in figuring out how to provide the control and the
understanding of what happens when they are tracked.
One common misconception in the industry is assuming we
can replace cookies with logged-in traffic. The problem here, as opposed to
cookies, is that a mail address is both persistent and easily linkable to a
physical person. Furthermore, the data privacy associated with a mail address
is managed through barely understandable Terms and Conditions that only few
users are really reading. In other words, it’s hardly a solution to privacy,
when your data can be used to gain a lot of personally identifying information
which the user unknowingly gives consent to.
We must work on finding a solution that allows the user
to take control regarding what they share, with whom, and for what purpose. We
also have to do this in conditions that the user can truly understand. This
means, for example, not asking consumers to provide their consent for ad-tech
players that they’ve never heard of (a la GDPR). Instead, we need to develop a
solution that would provide clear benefits to users being willing to share more
could this value exchange look like?
First and foremost, focusing on communicating and
delivering the clear benefits should be our primary goal. For example, we need
to develop a way for the user to declare preferences (i.e. via a whitelist or
blacklist) regarding the type of ads that they would be willing to receive.
They could do this manually, by choosing product categories, advertisers, or
specific industries of interest. Or we do this automatically by letting
algorithms “inspire” the consumer to decide based on a set of basic opt-in
information such as age, gender, or interests and behavior inferred by website
The more the user decides to declare granular data, the
more benefits we need to provide. On the advertiser side, the user might, for
example, be rewarded with coupons and discounts from brands (on top of seeing
only relevant ads). On the publisher side, the user declaring granular data and
accepting a wide range of ads could get access to more premium and specific
We could end-up in a win-win situation that would provide
control & useful recommendations to the end-user as well as a better ROAS
for brands (user engaging more with the ad because they expected to see it).
It will be a long and complex journey to turn those
principles into a concrete actionable solution. And at this stage, creating
such a solution is not just an option. It’s a need.
Understanding consumers’ wants and needs is critical for advertising success. These days, having technology that enables these insights is not just nice to have – it is a must have. However, with January’s release of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which favors consumer privacy rights and increases limitations on advertising targeting parameters, the ability to predict and target those “wants and needs” based on personal information is becoming increasingly difficult.
As a result, advertisers will undoubtedly need to adjust their strategy to accommodate new and emerging regulations. In January, for example, Google announced its plan to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome within the next two years. Rather than attempting to reach their target audience based on data collected from cookies, advertisers will need to delve deeper to define consumer preferences and behaviors. Pivoting media buying strategies toward contextual alignment and partnering closer with content creators will be paramount to reach consumers in the new data privacy regulated world.
At Integral Ad Science (IAS), we conduct an annual survey with agencies, advertisers, ad tech vendors, and publishers to get a sense of the common themes and challenges facing industry leaders in the upcoming year. In our 2020 Industry Pulse Report, data privacy legislation was understandably a point of concern for all parties. In fact, 82% of respondents listed contextual targeting as a key industry trend in the upcoming year.
Publishers have the advantage
This is where publishers are able to regain control. With new standards like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and CCPA already imposed (and Chrome’s looming 2022 deadline) a decreased ability to rely on cookies will undoubtedly take center stage globally. When it comes to reaching desired audiences, the industry shift toward an increased reliance on contextual and semantic capabilities will put publishers back on top. Not only do we foresee great power in first-party audience data and stronger than ever buyer-seller relationships, but there is also a greater opportunity for publishers to market the true value of their content.
The first step is for publishers to ask themselves: Am I monetizing all of my inventory, and how can I stand out from the crowd? Taking the time to understand their unique inventory landscape will help publishers smartly create packages with delivery guarantees that their advertisers actually want to buy.
The media buy
According to one 2020 Industry Pulse Report publisher participant, “Data will be the single most important factor. People want to reach specific audiences and, as a publisher, we need to rely on our first party data that has been cleared from a GDPR and CCPA perspective to offer contextual and behavioral targeting for media specific buys.”
However, curating and selling these custom inventory packages by using first-party data is not as simple as it may sound. Publishers need to partner with an unbiased third-party to validate and optimize these custom packages, especially when trying to win back advertiser trust. Now more than ever, advertisers are relying on verification partners to ensure that their ads are placed in brand safe and suitable environments. When asked about the implications of data privacy regulations, a manager at a global media agency noted, “…Ensuring our media is presented in the way the brand intends is now more important than ever.”
And consumers agree: according to the IAS Ripple Effect study, consumers are 30% more likely to remember an ad found in a suitable environment. Publishers leveraging a third-party verification partner who both sits in the epicenter of the ecosystem and provides patented technology to analyze all page content will be one step ahead of the competition.
The increasing impact of data privacy legislation means predicting and targeting consumer “wants and needs” will become increasingly difficult. Advertisers looking to reach the right consumers in the right context will need to lean heavier on publishers offering contextual and semantic solutions. Content is still king. So, publishers should continue to focus their efforts on creating quality content and then partnering with an established third-party to help intelligently package and promote it.
In recent years, the industry has focused a great deal of attention on the “tech tax” on programmatic spending. This refers to the fees being paid to the various DSPs, SSPs, exchanges, and other parties that sit between publishers and advertisers. Unfortunately, that’s only part of the story. Publishers are losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year to another hidden tax on their sites: latency.
Due to the volume of ad tags on today’s sites—and the slowness they inject into the site experience—publishers are losing untold impressions to ad technology that’s supposed to improve their monetization. Unfortunately, unless publishers actively address this problem, the latency tax is only going to go up. Here’s why.
Latency begets countless other ills for publishers
The true scope of the latency tax on publishers encompasses many sub-taxes. One of the most notable in this regard is viewability. Viewability measurement doesn’t start until an ad has been fully rendered on a page. Thus, laggy load times on a website have a direct impact on viewability. This, in turn has a direct impact on revenue. After all, today’s advertisers are increasingly relying on viewability metrics. This is only when selecting publishers with which to work, but also when determining the impressions for which they will pay.
With regard to latency, the viewability conundrum for publishers goes even deeper. Whether or not ads are viewable—and whether they’re appearing on brand-safe content, for that matter—is gauged by third-party ad tags on publishers’ sites. These tags, ironically enough, contribute to the latency on a publisher’s site, which in turn reduces viewability. On top of it all, thanks to ad tags that fire late or incorrectly, there’s typically a discrepancy between what’s happening on sites in reality and what these third parties say publishers can charge advertisers for. That’s another ding to publisher revenue that’s rarely considered.
And then, of course, there’s the user experience. On average, most publishers see several seconds of latency on their sites before the content loads and then ads begin to populate. The late incoming ads tend to shift content around on the site while users are already in the process of trying to consume it. That’s a bad user experience—and it has a real, tangible effect on a publisher’s bottom line. Latency results in user abandonment. Overtime, it contributes to wholesale ad avoidance, either actively (via ad blockers) or passively (via chosen platforms like iPhone and Safari). This is a direct result of the poor experiences being created by today’s ad tech and the resulting reaction on the user and browser side.
And yes, it’s going to get worse
The latency tax is already taking a heavy toll on open web publishers’ already-razor-thin margins. And this isn’t a problem that’s going to correct itself. On the contrary, technology advances on the near horizon promise only to exacerbate the issue. Take 5G, for example. As 5G networks and devices gain greater traction over the next two years, consumer expectations for speed in their mobile experiences are going to skyrocket. Unfortunately, faster speeds are only going to call more attention to legacy ad technology on publisher sites that drags down site performance and, correspondingly, monetization via ads.
For publishers, now is the pivotal time to be seeking new opportunities to streamline site experiences and reduce legacy latency issues within the ad experience. All the ad tech in the world isn’t going to help publishers better compete in the digital landscape if it’s ultimately contributing to a poor user experience and countless lost impressions. Publishers today need a new site-serving paradigm that removes the latency burden of today’s ad tags from their pages and accelerates the overall site experience, ads included.
Publishers have been quietly paying their latency tax for far too long already. In doing so, they’re ignoring a fast path to revenue that’s already there. It’s time to take a hard look at their current tech stacks. Then they need to make the changes required to get back to a place of speed, good user experience, and profitability.
One of the biggest challenges facing any
digital publisher is how to balance the often-competing needs of readers and
advertisers. Brands may want visibility, but how do you ensure their presence
doesn’t negatively impact the site’s look and feel? And how do you deliver the
best possible user experience in a way that continues to deliver results to
The product team at USAToday kept these challenges top of mind while working on its slick site overhaul unveiled late last year– its first major redesign since 2012. Among the most noticeable changes are faster speeds, different colored sections, clearer content labeling, more intuitive navigation and a more integrated presentation of sponsored content.
Doing the research
“Over the years we’ve collected a lot of information
from both advertisers and users on what they want from us,” says Nicole Dingess,
Senior Director of Product Design and User Experience Team at Gannett, USA
Today’s parent company. “Our advertising clients had been saying they wanted
something that felt special, and they kept using the word ‘premium’. So, we
really dug into that and asked what they meant.”
After some questioning, most brands revealed
they wanted to feel like a part of the content: “They don’t want a logo slapped
on like an afterthought, they wanted something thoughtful that gave them
At the same time, the team also wanted to
better serve their users, whether they came to them through search, social or
homepage. “We describe our desktop users as our most loyal users – they’ll read
three articles on average. And they’re the kind of folks that will engage with
a 200-page photo gallery,” explains Dingess. “When people come from social,
they want to know whether the article is what the headline said it was. We
needed to meet their expectations and keep them engaged.”
With this in mind, the team set about work with three main goals: transparency, greater personalization for advertisers, and a more respectful user experience featuring faster speeds.
To improve the user experience, the team created
new section colors to make it more obvious whether someone is reading a news story,
opinion piece, or lifestyle content such as Travel. One of the most noticeable
features is that op-eds now feature a ‘virtual highlighter’, clearly
differentiating them from news pieces. “We
need to help consumers understand what it is they’re taking in,” says Dingess.
On the homepage the team created “section
bundles” to help readers locate the latest content and ensure they’re up to
date with the day’s latest news. “We’re doing organization for them. It’s
quickly scannable, and then they can go deep into articles if they want,” says
Dingess. They also came up with new ways to offer special content to users,
such as investigative pieces or a podcast series, by adding pathways in the
masthead. “We can catch your eye and reveal USA Today content that you might
not otherwise know about.”
A premium experience
In order to satisfy advertisers’ needs, the team developed a page template to present sponsored content in a more natural-feeling way. “If someone sponsors a section, they get the background color as their brand color, so it feels very immersive,” she says. “Their logo is on the masthead, making it feel integrated rather than ‘stuck on’.”
Of course, user and advertiser needs can
sometimes clash. Therefore, balancing these two goals at all times was the
team’s biggest challenge. “We looked at every decision through those different
lenses,” she says. “We needed to make sure we were not over-investing in one at
the cost of another.”
A rigorous testing method was applied to
ensure that all goals were being hit. “The team often had their own thoughts
about what might be tripping people up or what could change, but we wanted to
get a sense of how users were interacting,” she says. They used a card sorting
exercise to test out the navigation, and each article layout was also put through
The big reveal
The final redesign was released to 2% of the website’s users. Then, after about a month of refinement, the site was rolled out to everyone.
Thus far, Dingess says the team has gotten “fantastic feedback” on the user experience, the site speed and the new premium look and feel. Advertisers and users alike are also fans of the clearer labeling of content. Overall, she says, “we’re hearing that the site’s much easier to use.”
One of the most discussed aspects of the redesign is the fact that comments on articles have been removed – a move in line with many other publishers, such as Vice and The Guardian. “We’d received feedback over time that people disliked the comments,” says Dingess. “Internally, we need to have an ongoing conversation about the role of commenting and what alternatives we might put out there, or how we might improve the experience.”
Overall, Dingess is confident the team has created
an excellent base that will allow for tweaks and improvements as and when
necessary. “We’ve built a solid foundation that we can refine over time, and we
intend to do that,” she concludes.
What’s more, the loopholes long used to circumvent these regulations are closing quickly and will likely be almost completely eliminated in the future. Even new ones that pop-up will likely be quickly snuffed out as these practices roll-out throughout the digital ecosystem.
For digital publishers, this raises a lot of questions. Isn’t the personalization provided by 3rd-party cookies better for advertisers? And, isn’t that what is required to maximize the value they are willing to pay publishers?
We’ve heard Google recently tout research that says personalized advertisements are more highly-valued than non-personalized contextual ads. That would seem to paint a bleak picture for publishers. However, keep in mind that Google is one of the few parties that can offer scaled first-party data and may be inclined to view this issue with bias.
With that being said, many still wonder that in a world without third-party targeting, how are publishers going to be able to deliver an audience to advertisers that are as valuable as the ones they’ve become used to? And at the end of the day, publishers want to know if they can make as much money as they were before from advertising.
Consider the source
Publishers need to take a step back and look at the premise of all this and ask, “Am I being manipulated by parties in the space to believe that I am going to lose value selling the exact same thing as I am today?”
The big change in the ecosystem will come to the third-party targeting system as a whole—and that’s an advertising system. The system being affected is largely going to be the programmatic one (buying and selling inventory using online systems, like Google Ad Manager). Publishers are simply leveraging the advertiser’s system to sell their inventory in an easy and cost-effective format.
This isn’t to say that publishers get to sit back and relax. In fact, publishers might have to find a new way to market that audience to the advertisers. However, if we look at the shifts in spending for advertisers, there’s no slowdown in digital ad spend. Given that spending is going up and your audience remains the same, publishers should have a fair amount of optimism.
Winners and losers
Google is already using cookieless tracking. The same can be said for many other major ad exchanges and ad networks. The advertising market has continued to grow and the money flows to the eyeballs, no matter what. When those eyeballs are on a TV ad for the Superbowl (obviously without cookies), the money flows there. That revenue is driven by the opportunity for advertisers to reach an audience they know is unique.
For advertisers, this is where they lose a little bit. They will have to work much harder in identifying what makes their audiences unique and where they can put their dollars to ensure they’re still able to capture them. This means trying new systems and methods.
In the realm of programmatic advertising, Google has the largest reach, a hold on the industry’s most effective tools, the most user data, and they’re incumbent at just about every layer of digital user experiences. It’s hard not to see them as the biggest winner in all of this.
The vast majority of the internet is potentially going to lose personalized cookie targeting. The good news is that publishers are more important than ever before. Your audience, your data, and the material relationship you have with them are more important than ever. And the value that comes along that is only poised to increase as time passes.
The only thing you should fear, given the death of 3rd-party cookies, are the players that will inevitably come out of the woodwork. They’ll tell you that the upcoming cookie changes are of reason why you need to pivot your strategy, need to leverage this company, or this third-party network, because they have great personal relationships with X network or Y direct advertisers.
Basically, they’ll say: Sell your audience to us and we’ll resell it to advertisers. It’s the only way to save your business. It’s in these players’ best interest to grow their first-party data and they need you to help them. Beware these pitches. Instead, rely on doing a good job of engaging with your audiences and understanding who they are.
My last piece of advice is this: Protect the relationship you have with your audience because it’s only going to get more valuable as time goes on.
the dawn of the new decade of 2020, DCN members gathered at the Mandarin
Oriental Miami January 16 and 17 to network, discuss victories and challenges
as media companies evolve, and explore industry predictions.
new decade calls for a perfect ‘20/20’ vision, said Jason Kint, CEO, Digital
Content Next as he kicked off the closed-door, off-the-record gathering. That
encompasses continued focus on audience desires, pushback against the myth that
all content has to be free, and the elevation of trust and transparency in an
era marked by ‘fake news’.
Union’s recently enacted copyright law is a win for the industry, with similar
discussions expected this year in the U.S, noted Kint. Federal and state
investigations as well as emerging regulations are all good signals toward protecting
consumer privacy, regulating data use and anti-trust concerns, notes Kint.
can also expect a steady rise in content investments. UBS estimates that in
2020, a combined 16 media firms will spend $100 billion to produce content.
More than $35 billion will allocated on streaming video content, as new players
such as Disney Plus and NBC’s Peacock emerge.
feeling really good this year about where things are headed,” said Kint.
Jim Bankoff, CEO, Vox Media said he valued being at the DCN Summit. He described it as a place where premium publishers come together to “find ways to partner and to check our healthy, competitive impulses … and figure out ways to work together” in the wake of ceding ground to third party big tech platform and ad network “that have proven time and again not to have our best interests in mind.”
journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who freelances for the Guardian and Observer,
captivated the audience by recounting her experiences unearthing the activities
of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for
her work, which sparked international investigations as well as inspiring the
Netflix documentary, ‘The Great Hack’.
was my introduction to this world of creepy disinformation, but also complete
reluctance from the platforms to even acknowledge the problem, let alone deal
with it,” she noted. She was instead subjected to legal pushback from Google
and Facebook as well as online bullying.
also called for media companies to not compete against each other. Instead, she
encouraged those in the room to join together to “compete against lies and
falsehoods. We’ve seen it in Britain and you’re next,” said Cadwalladr.
Galloway, professor, NYU Stern School of Business, said
he believes that the big tech companies on the antitrust radar should be
broken up. Monopolies kill economic growth and are a “key step to tyranny,” he
contended, adding a co-opted government can’t serve as a dominating force for
pointed out that efforts to regulate the behavior of big tech fines have been
largely ineffectual. To date, the fines haven’t been punitive enough to
dissuade the big tech companies to modify behavior, he said. He also criticized
the federal government for being slow to act.
Monetization and concerns about subscription fatigue were recurring themes at the summit. Yet DCN research shows that younger audiences in particular appreciate the value of a subscription and finds that there is still consumer appetite for subscription products.
Peretti, founder and CEO, Buzzfeed noted that over the course of a few short
years, the company has begun to generate significant revenue from Facebook,
Google, Amazon, and Netflix from licensing.
don’t think Facebook or Google wants to buy news companies,” said Peretti. Of
the platforms movement toward paying for content, he said that “They get the
benefit of sharing some of the costs of the production of that content. News is
a great way to direct repeat visitors and to build trust in the platform to
avoid some of the problems of misinformation.”
Turpin II, president, National Journal, noted his longstanding publication adapted
to the changing media landscape by transforming itself from a media company to government
research and consulting services company for which subscribers are willing to
pay premium prices.
VandeHei, co-founder and CEO, Axios; Executive Producer, AXIOS on HBO said, “you
have to deliver content in a way that I would deliver in a conversation with
you over a drink, like what is new.” However, to create value, “Tell me why it
matters. Give me some context. Give me the power to go deeper.”
Complex, the path to success hasn’t been simple. Rich Antoniello, CEO and founder,
Complex Networks said, “we call ourselves a brand that happens to monetize
through media.” He said his company shifted from an ad-dependent model in 2016,
ahead of the curve.
example is the wild success of its “Hot Ones” program. It features10 questions
of its celebrity guests that get progressively more personal along with the consumption
of hot sauce that gets progressively hotter. And the business model is based
not on advertising, but on the sales of high-margin hot sauce.
also outlined the success of ComplexCon, the company’s flagship event, which connects
cultural icons with fans who spend $100 to $700 for VIP tickets, with hundreds
of thousands sold. Fans also snap up merchandise from Complex and its app-based
vendors such as Nike and Adidas.
power of fandom arose again when Howard Mittman, CEO, Bleacher Report spoke of
how his company’s app and successful franchises attract sports fans. He
described how individual athletes hold more sway in their fandom habits than sports
10 million fans have signed up for alerts and the app accounts for half of the
company’s user engagement. Bleacher Report’s focus is not on breaking sports
news, but creating engagement on its own platforms, according to Mittman.
continues to go through cultural shifts toward diversity both in company
staffing and in targeting readership such as women. “Women are generally not
seeing themselves in media and advertising to the extent that they should be,”
said Catherine Levene, president, chief digital officer, Meredith National
have been the first to support #SeeHer, a national organization committed to
accurate representation of women in media and advertising,” she said. She added
that’s not only good for supporting women, but also for the bottom line. Women
who see themselves in media and advertising are 45% more likely to recommend a product
to a friend and purchase it, said Levene.
the controversy it has attracted by those who question the veracity of its
science, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand is growing, noted Elise Loehnen, chief
content officer. The platform embraces several media forms and covers topics
from relationships to health, including alternative therapies. She said that
the controversy has been good for keeping the brand at the forefront of popular
tired of being talked down to,” said Loehnen. “We’re a strong female brand
undisturbed by the chaos.”
Tobaccowala, chief growth officer, Publicis Group,noted that the only
way to get ahead as a legacy company is to “kill your core. You have to rethink
your entire business.”
Levene from Meredith believes that the mobile world and 5G will create an even greater market for video. And, with 50% of searches conducted on the more than 200 million voice-enabled devices in U.S. homes, opportunities and challenges will arise.
action to purge third-party cookies against the backdrop of GDPR and CCPA will
impact the entire digital ecosystem, Levene noted.
is going to be the currency of the future. Those who have it at scale and the
ability to drive a lot of insights from it are going to win,” she added.
In a social media environment that is being blamed for everything from decreasing personal contact to radicalizing disaffected youth and intensifying suicide rates among girls, Tatyana Mamut, head of product, Nextdoor, made the case that her platform is creating connections on a micro-level in a neighborhood at a time when people hardly know their neighbors
believe that kindness is the next big thing in tech,” she added.
Alto journalism educator Esther Wojcicki made the case that helicopter
parenting has impacted the workforce and its ability to embrace risk and
innovation. She calls for parenting – and management – to embrace trust,
respect, independence, collaboration and kindness. She also promotes the idea
that every student should take a journalism course to build media literacy skills.
future will be fraught with change. And as Tobaccowala pointed out, “human
beings know how difficult change is.” But to survive, media companies must
continue to evolve.
have the power to shape minds and hearts, to fill the world with laughter and
tears to inform the truth,” said Kint. “Here’s to 2020 bringing the roar of the
crowd as we focus on what matters most: the audiences we serve.”
As a 20-year marketing technology and media vet, I must tip my cap
to Data Management Platform startups for bringing new energy and interest to
the needs of publishers and their commercial partners. We face an ever-changing
media landscape characterized by fragmentation in delivery channels, evolving consumer
consumption behaviors, and privacy regulation. To navigate it successfully, we need
to focus our time and effort on finding innovative and effective ways to
connect, enrich, and activate consumer data for publishers in a manner that
respects consumer privacy and empowers choice.
I admire the marketing prowess and focused messaging of these Data
Management Platform (DMP) companies. However, I can’t stand by while they
purposely and repeatedly mischaracterize technical capabilities and
confuse publishers (and media outlets) on the facts related to profile
identifiers, browser storage mechanisms, privacy compliance, and “match rates.”
In a series of three pieces, I will set the record straight. This
first piece will focus on the facts on profile identifiers, browser storage
mechanisms, and their relationship to privacy regulation.
The facts about profile identifiers and browser storage mechanisms
If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard the term “cookieless
DMP” in the last year, I’d be a very rich person. This is purely a marketing
term with no basis in fact or function. If we’re talking about data management
technologies that are operating in a web browser context, then there is no such
thing as a “cookieless DMP.”
All data management technologies — including DMPs — use profile
identifiers (“PIDs”) in a web context to organize and connect consumer data. A
PID is typically a string of randomly generated letters and numbers. By itself,
a PID usually has no information that can directly identify an individual in
the real world.
In a web browser environment, these PIDs can be stored using one
of three browser storage mechanisms. These are: 3rd party cookies, 1st party
cookies, or browser local storage (sometimes referred to as HTML5 web storage).
It’s important to understand that a cookie is just a storage mechanism (a text
file), and you put a PID string inside the cookie.
1st and 3rd parties
Many years ago, DMPs primarily stored PIDs in 3rd party cookies
because they provided a consistent and scaled container to access PIDs across
websites and over time. In 2017, Apple released
their Intelligent Tracking Prevention (“ITP”) functionality in Safari. It blocked
the setting of 3rd party cookies by default and made that storage mechanism an
ineffective tool for storing and retrieving PIDs. As a fallback mechanism, DMPs
could use 1st party cookies to store and retrieve PIDs.
The difference between 3rd party cookies and 1st party cookies is
that 3rd party cookies can be accessed by the entity that originally set the
3rd party cookie irrespective of which website the consumer is visiting. In contrast,
1st party cookies can only be set and accessed when a consumer is visiting a
specific website domain.
So, for example, a PID that is placed in a 1st party cookie when a
consumer is visiting Publisher_A.com can only be accessed when the consumer is
at Publisher_A.com. If the consumer subsequently visits Publisher_B.com, then a
different PID will be generated and placed in a 1st party cookie that can only
be accessed from the Publisher_B.com domain. Now this same consumer has two
PIDs stored in 1st party cookies — each only accessible when visiting the
Within the past year, Apple has
continued to ratchet-up the ITP restriction on cookies in Safari, and now
even 1st party cookies are being squeezed. In many situations, 1st party
cookies will now only persist for 24 hours before being deleted. As a result,
web developers — including DMPs — have increasingly used browser local storage
as a fallback for storing PIDs.
Browser local storage is a
standard technology built into all major web browsers. It allows for the
storage of larger amounts of data (e.g., HTML code) than cookies, and over
longer periods of time than cookies. Browser local storage isn’t magic
technology — it’s standard web browser technology — and using it to store PIDs
When companies refer to their tech as “cookieless,” it
should be qualifying such as “3rd party cookieless.” It is worth noting that,
despite loud and repeated marketing claims to the contrary, these companies use
1st party cookies as the centerpiece of their platform for data collection. We
know this factually and objectively because they say so in their documentation.
The facts about profile identifiers, browser storage mechanisms,
and privacy regulation
I’m not exactly sure how the idea came about in the press that “cookieless
DMPs” are automagically GDPR compliant. However, that’s a misunderstanding that
needs to be corrected. Whether a PID is stored in a 1st party cookie, 3rd party
cookie, or local storage has no bearing on GDPR compliance obligations as a
processor for a publisher’s data.
Consumers have a set of rights under GDPR. Therefore, any
technology company processing consumer data on behalf of a publisher needs to
provide a means for publishers to transmit to such processors the consent
signals for data collection and use. They must also provide a way for the
processors to enforce those consumer consent choices. Mobile devices don’t use
cookies whatsoever in the app-space. However, publishers still need to comply
GDPR compliance obligations for a publisher-as-controller and a vendor-as-processor do not differ based on whether a vendor’s PID is stored in a 1st party cookie, 3rd party cookie, or browser local storage. Even if no 1st or 3rd party cookies were used — and if browser local storage was exclusively used — the GDPR obligations for the parties remain the same.
True forward-thinking innovation for publishers will be based upon
connecting publisher data to marketer data in meaningful ways across channels
and platforms. It requires providing the means for all parties to analyze,
enrich, and activate for commercial benefit — while always respecting consumer
privacy and empowering choice.
About the author
As Chief Marketing Officer, Adam leads Lotame’s global marketing
and product teams in helping publishers, marketers and agencies solve complex
business challenges with unstacked data solutions. His diverse experience
balances art and science. It includes stints as an aerospace engineer and
patent attorney, plus 21 years in consumer media and marketing technology in
leadership roles at Viacom Media Networks, Time Inc., Hearst, and PebblePost.
Adam is co-inventor on four issued U.S. patents related to interactive video
Digital Content Next (DCN) has released a strategic advertising report, TRUSTX Programmatic Market Insights Report, which offers learnings on the mechanisms, practices, and performance in play in the programmatic market. The report is based on interviews with publishers as well as insights from the teams at DCN and TRUSTX – DCN’s cooperative and private marketplace launched in 2016. It gathers insights from publishers and distills best practices to help educate and drive a positive industry discussion in the programmatic ecosystem.
Publishers report that there is an overall institutional resistance to adopting a cost-per viewable model at scale within a media ecosystem predicated on low CPMs and often low-quality content. The report also uncovers some high-level insights into the programmatic market and offers an insider’s view into programmatic practices.
Supply-Path Optimization (SPO) and Demand-Side-Platform (DSP) Throttling
Two specific industry practice noted by publishers include: Supply-Path Optimization (SPO) and Demand-Side-Platform (DSP) Throttling
This practice occurs when DSPs exclude an SSP’s bid based on bidding history in order to increase the likelihood that a bid will win. DSPs favor the SSPs with the highest number of queries per second (QPS). This enables DSP supply path optimization intelligence to “learn” how to win.
These SPO algorithms can be a barrier for smaller, newer SSP entrants. SPO algorithms, as they are designed today, favor established, larger scale SSPs. Increased visibility into the opaque ad tech ecosystem was cited as one of the most valuable benefits of participating in TRUSTX. Publishers believe that transparency is critical to strengthen the digital advertising market.
It is not uncommon for SSPs to leverage indirect buying channels (other ad networks and exchanges) to tap into unsold inventory. These additional supply-chain interactions, through what are known as resellers, increase non-working media costs to buyers (additional ad-tech taxes), and diminish revenue to publishers. Reseller routes to premium publisher inventory are typically invisible to buyers, and sometimes not visible to sellers. (Note that TRUSTX does not permit any resellers in its supply-chain; all buyers get a direct path to all publishers.)
While publishers agree that TRUSTX has advanced the programmatic marketplace, they also see opportunity to further evolve marketplace dynamics. This includes marketing officers and agency executives directing their buyers to spend only in premium programmatic environments that are based on value-driven economics rather than auction-based systems predicated on cheap CPMs and cost
The digital advertising landscape is constantly—and rapidly—evolving. Both publishers and advertisers will continue to see shifts in their businesses in 2020 as new technologies gather increased market share. Those who can harness these innovations to forge stronger connections with customers will have an opportunity to stand out from the crowd and drive revenue.
Staying on top of industry trends is crucial for brands vying for consumers’ attention. However, it can be equally challenging and time-consuming. The team at Lineup Systems compiled a list of predictions for publishers to kick off the conversation. Here are a few of the key takeaways:
Publishers will optimize for voice search
As we gain clarity on which technologies and business models signal trends rather than fads, voice technology is first in line. Voice began generating buzz in the marketplace in 2019, and its growing popularity is undeniable.
“There’s a lot of potential surrounding voice technology, and how to monetize it is the next challenge,” says Sarah Hartland, marketing manager and editor of Lineup Systems’ industry blog, the Newsroom.
It’s clear that the next generation of consumers will search for and buy products primarily through voice technology. By 2022, 55% of households are expected to own smart speakers. And voice searches are estimated to make up half of all online searches. Voice is on track to become a $40-billion channel. This means publishers need to optimize their digital content for voice search to get ahead.
“It’s very positive that publishers are having discussions around voice even if they haven’t quite nailed down how it’s going to generate revenue,” Hartland says.
Publishers will get increasingly creative with subscription models
Subscription models will continue to be relevant in 2020 and present exciting opportunities to reach audiences. Publishers need only look at the profound impact the direct-to-consumer model has had on the retail industry for inspiration and motivation.
The impressive success of subscription models can be largely attributed to personalization. The curated nature of subscriptions helps alleviate the overwhelm that consumers often experience when faced with too many choices. As a result, people are willing to pay for personalized experiences that one-off purchases simply can’t deliver.
Publishers who make the effort in 2020 to understand how their audience wants to consume their content will reap the benefits of the subscription model trend.
Data privacy regulations will benefit brands
Data privacy regulation is top of mind for advertisers and publishers alike due to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), effective on January 1, 2020. Compounded with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and ePrivacy Regulation, this new law signals that data privacy is an issue the digital advertising industry must continue to grapple with. Therefore, it’s time for publishers and advertisers to get creative.
“Because publishers can no longer rely on third-party data, they have to find or build new consent management platforms with first-party data in mind,” says Tiffany Kelly, digital product manager at Lineup Systems.
It’s crucial that publishers diversify their revenue streams and clearly articulate their value to consumers in exchange for opt-in consent. This will help mitigate the impact of consumer privacy laws on their businesses in 2020 and beyond.
Contextual targeting is part of the solution, because unlike audience-based targeting, it reduces the need to use personal data to reach people and has resulted in purchase intent increases of up to 63%.
“We have to recognize this shift as a positive thing,” says Hartland. “Nuances like double opt-ins and cookies can be a pain to figure out. But it will ultimately lead to some exciting long-term benefits around industry leadership, audience loyalty, and data quality.”
Getting in the game is the only way to win
It’s true that as new technology enters the marketplace, it brings challenges with it. However, brands that can adapt can make this work to their advantage in 2020. Publishers and advertisers who can find creative ways to harness the capabilities of new tech will have an opportunity to strengthen their relationships with consumers and drive revenue.
For seven more trends that will dominate 2020, plus a list of ways you can keep up throughout the year, check out Lineup Systems’ free white paper on digital advertising trends.
A year in the life of a digital publisher contains multitudes. Ups to some felt like downs to others. But there were challenges and news that publishers of any size and any vertical faced universally—news and events that defined the entire year.
At Marfeel, we work with 850 global publishing partners, reaching almost one billion sessions every month. That means that we deal with the issues and trends that impact publishers every day. With the knowledge we have in-house, we surveyed our team to collect a list of what we consider to be the biggest publisher trends of 2019 and what they mean for 2020.
Red tape and regulation
Ok, GDPR wasn’t strictly 2019… but it’s effects are still being felt. Users continued to tick pop-ups without reading them. However, in the UK, fines in excess of $300 million were handed out to British Airways and Marriott for failing to ensure information security. A small price, perhaps, to companies of that size. However, they offer a much-needed reminder that nobody is above the law when it comes to GDPR.
Even if you argue that it’s not effective in protecting user data, it seems more regulation is coming in 2020. And with 50 different states in the US alone, publishers are going to have to find a way to cope with different levels of regulation for different users in 2020.
The great paywall question
To gate, or not to gate, that is the question publishers struggled with for 2019. We saw every variety of paywall tried and tested.
Premium publishers like The New Yorker and The Atlantic opted for soft paywalls, hoping to build consumer loyalty. Others decided to shut out all but paying customers, cleaving their audiences but guaranteeing a source of revenue. Major media groups like The Guardian and The New York Times made news with the success of their subscription models. However, the majority of publishers won’t convert significant audiences into paying customers.
The 2019 headline is that paywalls work, to an extent. Concerns grew about ‘subscription fatigue’ as many worried that audiences would grow tired of paying separately for a variety of different online services. It will be interesting to see whether 2020 crosses that tipping point and, of course, if paywalls work as a long-term proposition.
Given the booming market for premium content offerings, it seems inevitable that in 2020 a true Netflix for News will emerge. People want to browse around a series of headlines. They want to be able to read stories shared by others and pick based on the story, not the brand.
No one company has managed to crack it definitively yet. But In the United States, Apple News now reaches more iPhone users (27%) than the Washington Post (23%). This is a sign that aggregation is going to gain traction in 2020.
Trust and transparency
In 2019, we learned that people don’t trust the news as much as they used to. This is makes it harder for smaller publishers to break stories and build audiences. Consumers veer towards larger media brands, which are a known commodity. It can be difficult for less well-known entities to break through, or maintain their growth.
And trust runs both ways. Advertisers and publishers both still want more transparency from SSPs and ad networks. Google’s switch to first-price auctions earlier in the year reminded the industry of the long-held last-look advantage that walled-garden exchanges can provide.
The hunt for viewability
Viewability was the hottest term in the industry for advertisers in 2019. Some publishers reacted with surprise that advertisers wanted a guarantee that their ads were actually seen by someone (and not bots).
They started to set minimum standards and refuse to buy space that couldn’t demonstrate their viewability. These standards now exceed the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) definition of a viewable impression, which says that at least 50% of pixels must be in view for at least a second. In 2020, publishers will have to offer as close to 100% viewability and find a way to prove it to advertisers.
The creeping growth of voice tech
Alexa, how do I advertise on you?
The use of smart speakers grew from 7% to 14% in the UK last year. And usage was up +3% (from 9% to 12%) in the United States.
With voice-assistants sprouting into more homes, more content is starting to be delivered by voice. Quick answers to once-Googled questions will possibly draw traffic away from news sites in 2020. This and the growth of podcasts as a content format gave advertisers a new concern in 2020: how to bring their programmatic tech to an audio format.
The rise of Gen Z
Move over Millennials. There’s a new generation here to casually pull apart the framework of the industry.
In addition to formulating the right content to reach them, publishers have struggled to find a payment model that appeals to the younger generation. Digital natives get their news from too many different sources to be tied to a single publisher. As Adweek explains, “52 percent of Gen Z consumers will transfer loyalty from brand to brand if they find product quality to be subpar.”
2020 will see diversified revenue generation models, segregated by the audience and content types.
Saving the most worrisome for last, 2019 may be the last year of free and unfettered access to user cookies to inform advertising.
Google confirmed proposals to overhaul targeting in Chrome. And Apple went further with its online tracking restrictions. ITP 2.1 reduces the accessibility and longevity of first-party cookies, allowing them to be stored for only seven days.
Ratko Vidakovic, founder of AdProfs summarized what the move meant, “Given Apple’s aggressive attitude towards this issue, it seems like the idea of persistent cookies in Safari, for cross-site tracking purposes, will eventually be a thing of the past.”
The uncharted territories of 2020
To help paint the picture of 2020’s publishing industry to come, Marfeel is putting together the big publisher trends of 2020 report, with the help of their publisher network. By sharing concerns and challenges, the digital publishing industry can unite to create a more informed industry as a whole and overcome the challenges of 2020 and beyond.
Losses due to digital ad fraud made headlines in 2019. Such staggering reports have led some marketers to evaluate their media buying processes and become more selective about where they place their investment. So, what exactly are they looking for? We recently spoke with Jeanne Finegan, chief media officer at HF Media, the media arm of Heffler Claims Group, and vice president of media solutions at Prime Clerk, to gain insight into her selection process and discover what qualities she seeks in a digital advertising partner. Here are some key takeaways:
A quality environment
Advertisers want to partner with sites that provide them with the greatest return on investment. To do this, some are creating formal processes to assess whether a publisher has created an environment that provides minimal risk of ad fraud. Steps marketers have taken include reducing the number of intermediaries through supply-path optimization, using whitelists to separate premium websites from the rest, and dealing directly with publishers for their transactions.
Finegan’s team uses a multi-step process to evaluate
potential partners. “We have a pretty extensive vetting process which includes
proof of service,” Finegan said. “We ask a lot of questions running various
scenarios for timing, quality, responsiveness and transparency.”
Part of this process determines whether the publisher can help
the advertiser reach their target audience and ensure that the audience is legitimate.
Unfortunately, bots that generate clicks and fake traffic
continue to be a contributor to the ad fraud problem. However, since bots don’t
provide any real interaction – such as making purchases – they don’t give
advertisers any return on their investment. As a result, marketers are steering
their buys toward platforms that offer legitimate audiences even if that means
“Quality environments, accountability, and human engagement
are being valued over clicks,” Finegan added. “There
has been a long-established narrative in the digital ecosystem that more is
better. Smart marketers will increasingly value quality over quantity.”
Publishers can leverage their quality ad environments in several ways:
Create Quality Content. Regularly
publishing well-written articles and videos are likely to attract more human
Marketers also look for publishers that have implemented a
variety of industry-vetted solutions.
One such tool is ads.txt. This initiative created by the IAB Tech Lab allows publishers to list all authorized sellers of their inventory, which helps demand-side platforms detect unauthorized digital sellers in programmatic buys. DSPs crawl these files to make sure that they are buying from legitimate SSPs.
Another solution is the use of MRC-accredited fraud
detection software. There are several solutions in the market that help detect
invalid site traffic.
While fraud detection tools are important for fighting fraud, human oversight is equally as important. The 2019 ANA/White Ops Bot Baseline report revealed that less than half of all ad impressions are able to be fully, transparently validated by measurement tools.
Third-party website audits add another layer of protection by examining the processes the website has in place to detect and reduce fraud. “Through third-party audits, buyers can differentiate quality sites, analyze traffic and clearly see the difference between audited publishers and those who are sourcing traffic or running fraudulent sites,” Finegan said.
A website audit demonstrates a publisher’s commitment to transparency and separates premium sites from the rest by providing evidence that the site is doing everything possible to reduce fraud risk. It also helps media buyers make more informed decisions, leading to more successful campaign outcomes.
critical. Clients need to demand proof of where ads appeared and proof that
the campaign resulted in specific valued outcomes and then pay for performance,”
A holistic approach
While there are many tools available to publishers to fight ad
fraud, no single solution can solve the entire problem. It’s important for
publishers to include a variety of tools in their fraud-fighting arsenal. By taking
a holistic approach to reducing fraud, publishers can stand out to advertisers and
provide them with high-quality ad platforms likely to deliver real audiences
It’s that time of year – time to close the books, conduct annual reviews, and plan for the future. When it comes to online advertising, here’s what publishing executives should be monitoring in 2020.
Digital advertising is still a growth industry
In the U.S., advertisers increased spending on digital formats by 17% during the first half of 2019. That’s a net increase of more than $8 billion, far outpacing total advertising growth rates of approximately 5%. Digital is appealing because of its ability to target, comparatively low cost, and general ease-of-use. To capture more digital ad dollars, publishers need to simultaneously educate the market on the core value proposition – i.e., higher quality audiences – and make it easier to buy their products. Digital is a growth market, while growth in the overall ad business is expected to slow.
Podcasts are all the rage
Researchers from Reuters describe podcasting as a “worldwide phenomenon.” In the US alone, 90 million people are regular listeners, double the number as compared with 2015. Their appeal to established publishers is obvious: Podcasts offer an opportunity to repurpose and extend offline content into a new format, and generate new revenue opportunities along the way. The market is increasingly competitive and producing quality shows requires investment and talent. However, the ad appeal of podcasting iso longer in question. Marketers spent $479 million on podcasts ads in2018 and are projected to spend over $1 billion by 2021. We covered the topic of podcast advertising in March, and the underlying fundamentals have only strengthened since.
Creative is making a comeback
The mushrooming marketing technology industry and companion programmatic advertising sector of recent years allowed advertisers to target and scale at unprecedented levels. And brands invested aggressively on both fronts, to the point where the market is arguably oversaturated today. A byproduct of this situation is a subtle refocus on creative. What was once the cornerstone of the ad business – Why worry about creative when reach and scale was so cheap? – got shoved aside is re-emerging. But now that everyone is deploying adtech, it’s no longer a differentiator. Thus, market influencers are talking about the economic implications of creativity. And any advertising discussion that centers on quality favor publishers. It’s a talking point that can be exploited.
Brand safety: the rock in the industry’s shoe
No one really wants to discuss brand safety, or ad fraud, or transparency. It’s like planning for an economic downturn. Sure, it’s prudent, but the act of doing it feels like an avoidable self-fulfilling prophecy. Conventional wisdom says “the market is growing, benefiting both brands and platforms; let’s just keep plowing forward.” But this topic isn’t going away. And it could get more attention as market conditions soften and dollars become scarce.
During lean times, corporations reflexively look for cost-savings opportunities, and digital advertising is perfect target, as a growing and bloated line item. In recent years, brand safety, transparency and fraud initiatives have been molting; it’s no longer front-page news, as was the case with FBI investigations in 2018, but there are pockets of focus and expertise poised to emerge. This year, for example, we saw the launch of “data transparency labels.” And Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, has been a vocal advocate of identifying problem areas and offering solutions. This could be the year that these issues break out and get priority treatment, and it will favor publishers – who haven’t really been ensnared in these controversies to date – in a big way if it happens.
The future is bright
Though more than a decade old – Facebook was launched in 2004, Google in 1998 – the digital advertising category continues to evolve rapidly and offer myriad opportunities to established and upstart publishers alike. Sure, the duopoly will continue to dominate the category for the foreseeable future. However advertisers are exploring alternatives in a more meaningful way these days.
Advertisers are tired of being at the mercy of a couple of big platforms. They also have more infrastructure and know-how to wean their dependencies. Additionally, the biggest platforms are caught up in hailstorm of noise and distraction related to politics, privacy and governance. With the ability to offer compelling content, brand safety, and high-end audiences, savvy publishers are well-positioned to be prosperous in 2020.