Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How we’ll fix the mess of digital display advertising: part two

Rob Webster is Founder of Canton Marketing Solutions. He’s worked in the adtech industry since 2001 and is NDA’s monthly adtech columnist.

This is the part two of this week’s column (part one here), discussing some concrete ways we can all deal with the problems that have led display advertising to become such a scandalous mess.

Privacy by design Display

It is becoming clear that the fourth era of digital marketing that will emerge after the pandemic is going to be all about privacy. Google and Apple are already showing the way this works with their privacy by design contact tracing app, data clean rooms such as Ads Data Hub and the proposals around changes to how browsers operate with ads.

I don’t think much of the industry has caught on with quite how different display is going to be in a couple of years. To survive and thrive independent the display sector needs to stop worrying about what it will lose (large volumes of high yield retargeting revenue) and instead embrace the new era by ensuring it has rock solid privacy built in.

As practitioners looking and recommending new technologies to be installed we must be demanding that they reach the highest standards of privacy by design or at the least have a path to get there in the near future. Here are some of the big headline changes display should look to get ahead of as there is no like-for-like change coming that will be privacy compliant. 

  • Real Time Bidding. Today RTB systems are broadcasting IDs considered Personally identifiable by the regulator to be broadcast to thousands of technology companies. This practice needs to stop and RTB needs to change to accommodate privacy by design to survive. 
  • Consent frameworks, retargeting and audience targeting. This whole process needs to move away from the third-party cookie to something more privacy focussed likely at least partly around logged in users. Volumes for retargeting and audience targeting have been dropping for the last two years due to changes in browser technology and look set to decline further. 
  • Frequency capping. Frequency capping is a vital part of media planning and buying. However it does not need the same individual precision as has been demanded from display in recent years. Given that frequency cannot be individually managed between the big walled garden platforms or then across TV and OOH options, as an industry we need to stop worrying about individual control of frequency and instead look at controlling it in that given environment and cross-environment averages. 
  • Measurement. Current third-party cookie-based measurement is going to change dramatically and needs to be built around privacy by design and consent. 

A two or three world solution

To overcome the above, display must move into a two or perhaps three tier world. 

The Authenticated Web. 

The first world is the authenticated web. This is a web based on people logging in to publishers and this log in being the source of consent being controlled. Companies such as InfoSum will allow publishers, Advertisers and data companies to collaborate on consented users to allow audience buying and measurement. This world will operate much like the Facebook audience network does today though we must hope it is controlled by independent ad tech following privacy by design protocols. 

The anonymous web

However there will also be large numbers of users on publishers who have not logged in and/or have not shown consent for their data to be used. This world will have no audience targeting and no direct tracking. Instead inventory will be bought on context, location (but not too detailed to be Personally identifiable), Device and situation (at home, at work, roaming). This world will be measured on a AI turbo charged version of predictive modelling/econometrics. 

The third layer

This third layer will be where the above two collide and techniques be used side by side. Away from the walled gardens but where authenticated users are few and far between.

A world of Ecosystems

To maximise on the benefits of the above and to remove some of the more distasteful parts of display, publishers will organise themselves into Ecosystems.. These ecosystems can collaborate on things like single login, data, adtechnology and crucially the point of sale with the advertiser or agency. The Ozone project is a good example of one possible such ecosystem powering the large national press titles.

These ecosystems again can operate much like walled gardens. Walled gardens get a bad name in our industry but controlled by our independent technology and publishers there are many advantages. Having walls keeps out bad actors and can act as a guarantee on inventory quality. The major buying platforms also have easy to use interfaces for buying media that our publisher ecosystems should copy. Compare how easy it is to buy media on facebook with buying on the guardian, telegraph or independent. 

Many ecosystems can operate on the authenticated web and sharing the login power. However there are other models. Local news sites are in bad need of a new model and a local ecosystem could make it easy for local businesses to buy the inventory they want. This would not need to include logged in users and could be controlled around location and being easy to access for local businesses.

Other ecosystems could come from the industry bodies or other groups organising publisher inventory, audited and controlled by technology looking at log level data, an automated version of the PWC analysis if you will. A company called Fiducia is investigating just such a model. 

Ciaran O’Kane, founder of Exchangewire believes these ecosystems will look much like industry vertical ad networks – certainly an industry focus for some will be highly beneficial. Demand for organised media that is strong in verticals like travel, automotive, different sports, computer games would be able to have significant strength in their vertical and be a bulwark against dominance from GAFA. 

Approved Sellers

One advantage of the ecosystem model is that it makes it easier for advertisers to understand where their money is ending up. Any publisher platform should be prepared to publish for a given advertiser where their money is being paid too. A publisher or indeed a reseller. Advertisers should be able to approve and or block these routes as they wish. 

It has always frustrated me that advertisers got all the blame for appearing on sites run by bad actors. Advertisers do not want to appear there and attempt not too. It is the platforms that are allowing these actors to flourish and ultimately pay them the cheques. A system like the above combined with a rating system for every publisher that gets paid could cut the blight of fraud from our industry over night. It’s an initiative I would love the industry to get behind as i have been mentioning it for years but to no avail. 

Consider Amazon or Ebay’s model of sellers. As a user I can view the seller and their approval rating and therefore am somewhat informed as to what level of risk I am taking. In this way advertisers could choose not too buy media from sellers with brand new accounts, questionable reviews or indeed on other criteria. This could be a revolution in the ethical advertising efforts being made in our industry as all sellers in an ecosystem could be given a score on these ethical considerations. 

Better metrics, better planning

All of the above has many benefits but would be for nothing if we don’t have better metrics. A movement away from the impression to in view dwell time would be a great start. That of course means standardising the still widely divergent numbers on viewability and dwell time. Avocet as a DSP have led the way with this level of planning and optimisation in real time environments showing how it can be done. Other companies such as Parsec are now entering the fray. As practitioners I would hope we can all look to push away from the impression to something more useful. 

Bringing it together.

I have brought together many concepts here today. However I hope you will all agree that independent display is worth fighting for. Across the industry we have the tools and the talent to build something better.

What we need is the will. I believe we can do it and that the pandemic will usher in a new era for display that is better for the consumers, publishers, advertisers and us practitioners alike.

Let’s do this!