Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How marketers can build a stronger, safer and more secure ad ecosystem

By Tanzil Bukhari, Managing Director, EMEA, DoubleVerify

Three years on from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect, the relationship between advertisers, consumers and data is continuing to transform. 

Following, and beyond, the likes of the ePrivacy Directive which focused on protecting privacy and security of personal data in electronic communications, GDPR, in regulating EU data protection and collection as a whole, firmly positioned Europe as the global leader for consumer privacy—further cementing its shift from the sidelines to centre stage for consumers and marketers alike. 

Perhaps most significantly for advertisers, the rise of such a regulatory landscape, and increasing consumer concerns over privacy, has accelerated the deprecation of the third-party cookie. With Google Chrome set to join Apple Safari and Firefox and sunset cookies by 2022, the digital advertising technology that has enabled targeting and analytics for the last decade is entering its final stages.

Meanwhile, Apple is restricting the ability for advertisers to track consumers across apps on iOS by limiting access to unique user IDs, potentially further impacting advertising on a platform that accounts for nearly 30% of all mobile traffic. 

While the dominance of certain approaches to consumer tracking are coming to a close, the need for brands to reach relevant audiences, and measure campaign performance, is not. However, despite it being three years since the introduction of GDPR, and over a year since Google’s announcement on its cookie plans, much of the ad industry remains uncertain over how to achieve this with scale and accuracy, and most importantly, in a privacy-friendly way.

There’s not a silver-bullet. Marketers must understand there will be no like-for-like replacement of the third-party cookie. However, with the right advances in analytics, accountability and targeting, and increased collaboration between technology providers and partners, solutions are within reach. 

Track attention, not identity 

Without use of cookies, marketers need new ways to measure campaign performance, and ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of their ad spend. 

At a baseline, advertisers need tools that can confirm that their ads are fully viewable, by a real human, in the intended geographic area, and in an environment that is safe and suitable to the brand. With this bedrock of quality locked in, they can then look to measure attention, which can indicate how an ad will perform.  

Privacy-friendly approaches to measuring performance can entail analysis of various anonymised data points, such as how an ad is presented, and how a consumer engages with it. 

In short, this shifts the focus from who is viewing an ad (as a cookie attempts to understand through an individual’s browsing behaviour) to how ads are being viewed. It also encourages and informs the creation of more meaningful consumer experiences by revealing in greater detail how ads are being perceived, enabling brands to refine their approach. 

However, to create true clarity on performance, each brand needs to know exactly what they are looking for. To do this, brands should now start setting benchmarks based on specific data that can translate across different channels, markets, and more. For example, a travel brand might want to ensure eye-catching video-vistas are on show, while an insurance company wants audio testaments heard. With those benchmarks set, it becomes much easier to gauge what meaningful attention is to each brand in the post-cookie era. 

Increase oversight and accreditation 

A shift away from third-party cookies and a more stringent regulatory landscape also means first-party data from brands and publishers will grow in importance. These sources of data will play a particularly central role amongst large publishers. For example, The New York Times, with a 6-million strong subscriber base, announced it would no longer use 3rd party data to target any ads. Other large publishers, like Vox Media and The Washington Post, are following suit. 

However, these closed data environments cannot replace the cookie alone, especially as programmatic buying accelerates. To ensure both media quality and media effectiveness, brands should work with vendors that are accredited to measure and de-duplicate ad impression quality, determining whether an ad is fully viewable, by a human, in a brand safe environment and within the intended geography. 

Further, many legitimate publishers of a smaller scale will still require ways to monetise content without putting in place the infrastructure necessary to create a first-party environment. Likewise, advertisers will need ways to accurately target audiences through content from such publishers. This is one area in which contextual targeting can play a role. 

Focus on categorising content, not consumers 

Rather than following users around the web, offering consumers kitchenware ads because they were searching for some glassware a week ago helps ads to instead be targeted through context. That means those kitchenware ads appear alongside relevant pages, like a recipe section on a website. Content type ultimately becomes a proxy for the audience type.    

A targeted approach fuelled by contextual intelligence has now grown in precision and accuracy thanks to recent advances in technology. An example is semantic science which can precisely categorise content automatically, segmenting it into types based on industry standards. 

This enables brands to choose exactly what types of content their ads appear alongside, allowing them to adapt targeting in real-time and ensure ads are relevant to audiences. This is particularly valuable in also making sure that ads land in a brand safe environment—something that has only become more top of mind for advertisers after a year of turbulent, fast-moving news cycles. Best of all? This can all be achieved in a privacy-friendly way, without audience data. 

A better ad industry 

On its own, contextual targeting won’t replace the cookie. Neither will new measurement tools, nor first-party data environments. However, together each of these technologies and approaches must play a part in building a better ad industry. 

Since its enactment, GDPR has accelerated and put a spotlight on the issue of privacy. Now, marketers, publishers and technology vendors must challenge the status quo and take up the mantle, embrace new approaches, and build a stronger, safer and more secure ad ecosystem for all.