Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The‌ ‌future‌ ‌of‌ ‌programmatic‌ ‌is‌ ‌still‌ ‌being‌ ‌written,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌have‌ ‌to‌ ‌come‌ ‌soon‌ ‌

By Matthew Goldhill, CEO and founder, Picnic Media

Under different circumstances, the impending withdrawal of third-party cookies from Google platforms might have been the major topic of marketing conversation in 2020. As it was, other issues tended to dominate our thoughts, but that doesn’t mean anything has changed on the cookie front, and those whose business relies heavily on targeting have certainly been staring long and hard at the future picture.

At this stage, the words of anyone who tells you they know exactly how things will shakedown in the programmatic world should be taken with a pinch of salt. But from Picnic’s perspective, we see two main categories of focus that are likely to cover most of the main areas of innovation.

The rise of the partnership

Previously, advertisers have been in control of exactly who sees their ads – they have built audiences and retargeted website visitors, delivering their messages exactly where they want them seen. The death of the third-party cookie lowers the curtain on that era and calls for new methods of targeting and audience generation, fired by new partnerships with publishers and supply-side solutions.

Publisher first-party data becomes particularly important here. Rather than using third-party data or their own first-party data, advertisers will need to find publishers who can effectively model the data of visiting audiences and determine interest groups based on browsing habits. Publishers in turn will be keen to generate increasing quantities of logged-in data, which may well enable them to link back to Google and tally against demographic information.

In this way, the equation switches, so that targeting programmatic becomes a collaborative task rather than a self-contained one, necessitating the involvement of publishers, agencies and supply-side platforms to bundle together data and craft audiences. In effect, it means that in place of their own targeting data, advertisers will be looking for inventory and data combined.

That sounds simple, but there are pieces that still need to emerge. How do we create a standardised taxonomy of categorisation, so that when we talk about a person who is interested in a particular product or sector, we are all genuinely talking about the same kind of person? And how do we go about scaling that type into an entire audience of such people? These are the things that need to be perfected, and I’m fascinated to see what emerges. 

The power of context

Contextual targeting, meanwhile, is arguably the great hope of the targeting business, addressing privacy issues while still allowing for maximum targeting relevance. Intelligent approaches to contextual are therefore at a premium, and one of those that catches our eye is a company called Mantis, part of Reach plc, that is using IBM Watson AI to provide a really smart contextual understanding of page content.

An important nut to crack – and one they are hard at work on – is the issue of blocklists, which currently eliminate vast swathes of culturally-focused material, good and bad, in order to avoid the possibility of unsuitable content against a given ad. AI can help us find the context in that material, and in the process enable us to create broader, more inclusive audiences.

Picnic’s own part of this is the development of a new contextual targeting feature that identifies pages on the basis of their embedded social content. If we can understand and aggregate these embeds according to their subject matter, we then have a highly relevant new hook for advertising in real-time, allowing brands to advertise against live social reactions and build contextual segments from hashtags and usernames.

The one thing we know for certain is that we are looking at a year of rapid advances in programmatic. By the time the dust clears from the eventual fall of the third-party cookie, we are going to see a vivid new picture with a new breadth in the range of available solutions. No-one has more to lose in all of this than Google, whose decision it has been to initiate this process. We continue to watch for cues, but while there are still many unknowns, clarity is going to have to arrive at a rapid pace.