Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Upcoming disruption to frequency capping illustrates the massive changes about to hit the adtech industry

By Aaron McKee, Chief Technology Officer at Blis

The next twelve months represent a major inflection point for the digital ad industry, arguably, the biggest point of change ever in the history of advertising. The introduction of new privacy and platform regulations will fundamentally restrict the industry’s ability to target individual users and track cross-site activity. Many ad industry players are already adapting and preparing for the new reality, however, others continue to live in denial about the sheer extent of the disruption that lies ahead.

The key triggers for this change are the final withdrawal of third-party cookies from Google’s Chrome web browser by 2022 and the upcoming launch of iOS 14.5 from Apple, which is expected to require apps to seek opt-in consent from users before they can share data across different publishers or sites. While web browsers such as Safari and Firefox have already blocked the use of third-party cookies, the fact that Chrome has more than 60% of the market has allowed some agencies to simply divert budget there and pretend that the world wasn’t changing.

That time is fast running out. Without third-party cookies and with fewer individual identifiers from iPhones, aspects of digital marketing that we have come to take for granted and barely think about – such as, frequency capping – are about to be seriously impacted.

It’s well documented that while consumers appreciate good examples of targeted, creative advertising, one thing they actively dislike is the over-rotation and repetition of individual ads. Indeed, studies have shown that being exposed to the same ad over and over again can actually produce the opposite effect from intended by leaving a consumer with negative sentiment towards a brand forever!

In response, the adtech industry introduced frequency capping to ensure that the same user or the same device could only be served the same ad a specified number of times, depending on the desired level of exposure. This is now a standard feature on almost every DSP and media plan. Unfortunately, the traditional methods of delivering frequency capping rely heavily on exactly the sort of cookies and personal identifiers that are about to become history. So, what next?

Introducing ‘flexicapping’

Without traditional tracking capabilities to rely on, it becomes trickier to establish a robust view of the user that transcends individual applications or publishers. Frequency capping as precisely as we’ve always done it, e.g. saying I only want to show Consumer A seven ads across the life of this campaign, becomes impossible at the sort of scale advertisers have become used to.

At Blis, our approach to frequency capping, which we’re calling ‘flexicapping,’ is based on layering the alternative classes of identifiers that we still have access to in order to achieve the sort of scale advertisers demand. So, for example, where we still have the greenlight to use opted-in device specific data, we’ll use it.

The next class of identifiers we use are publisher specific or site-specific IDs. These publisher specific identifiers can still be used to uniquely identify a device, but only within a scope of a single publisher or a publisher group. For example, if you’re using Angry Birds, your device will have a unique identifier, but it will be only available for Angry Birds and its publisher. When you use another app or publisher, you will have another unique identifier. Those identifiers are specifically introduced as a fallback option whenever we are not able to see a device ID or third-party cookie. 

Another class of identifier, which has been used in the past, is the IP address. Using IP addresses allows us to limit the number of ads that we show to a particular household or commercial location.

Using these identifiers makes sense as they are unlikely to be affected by Google or Apple changes in future, allowing us to continue to deliver ads to the consumer who have opted not to share their device information. Although less surgical than what we’ve grown accustomed to, they still provide a high level of control over ad delivery and limit over-exposure. We think this provides a tangible benefit to advertisers as well as consumers.

At Blis, we think our suggested approach to frequency capping, based on layering the tiers of identity that we still have sight of, is reasonably clever and in line with how the wider industry is likely to move. However, ultimately, the industry-wide conversation around frequency capping has still to take place.

At this point, we’re happy to lead the discussion with our flexicapping solution and help make sure that this easily overlooked but important point of change is on the agenda of our agency clients.

*Blis is a client of Bluestripe Communications, owned by Bluestripe Group, the owner of NDA.