The cookies crumble: Is enhanced digital privacy the end of programmatic as we know it?

The cookies crumble: Is enhanced digital privacy the end of programmatic as we know it? Jeff Meglio is VP agency partnerships at Sovrn.

The ad tech industry has faced a flood of challenges — with the GDPR driving stricter data regulation, brand safety concerns sparking the ‘adpocalypse’, and Apple’s Safari ITP limiting cookie use. Add Google’s updated Chrome privacy features to the mix, and many are left wondering: what’s next for programmatic?

Programmatic platforms were built with the cookie in mind and a surprisingly large number still rely on third-party data. But as the cookie crumbles and leaves a shallower pool of targetable consumers, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain business as usual.

As long as the industry evolves, however, this doesn’t have to be the end of programmatic. To ensure lasting success, it must recognise growing demand for better privacy as a positive change and adapt accordingly: adjusting data sources and targeting methods to offer higher consumer protection, insight quality, and engagement. 

Going direct for user data

Greater awareness of online privacy has made consumer communications complex. While many consumers (39%) aren’t comfortable sharing their data, they also appreciate tailored interactions; with nearly two-fifths (36%) seeing personalised deals as a sign brands care about them. As a result, advertisers must master a tough balancing act between meaningful messages and respectful data handling; starting by reviewing the type of data they use. 

For example, the close relationships publishers have with their audiences not only places them in a strong position to collect data, but also gain consent for varied uses: including the delivery of relevant ads. So, it’s hardly surprising that forward-thinking advertisers are swapping limited third-party cookies for publisher data. Through partnerships with vendors that offer a direct line to first-party publisher data, advertisers can refill their programmatic stores with quality inventory and accurate insight that fuels effective, compliant targeting.

Additionally, there is also an opportunity to leverage valuable data that is even further removed from restricted cookies: content-centric insight.

A return to contextual relevance

Contextual targeting was once a leading way for advertisers to align messages and audience interests, but the explosion of data sharing and sophisticated tracking technologies changed standard practice; replacing browser-based with more direct audience targeting, powered by granular user data. Now, the clamp down on personal data usage — and criticism of large-scale profiling — is driving a contextual renaissance, with some upgrades.   

Next generation contextual targeting allows advertisers to meet the key programmatic advertising goal of right person, right time and right message, without being invasive. Using page-level publisher data — such as keywords, traffic, and content sentiment — advanced tools can match ad creative to current on-screen content and the offers most likely to deliver real value for specific audiences. Plus, the added benefit of ads that mirror their environment is they minimise disruption while increasing the chances of positive reception and results.

Transparency and safety for all

For some advertisers, overhauling established data processes may be a daunting prospect, but the need for evolution is too great to ignore. Following scandals such as the YouTube crisis, Cambridge Analytica debacle and British Airways’ fine, data security and transparency are at the top of the agenda for audiences — making them key priorities for advertisers and their agencies. Alongside keeping data pools compliant, advertisers must enhance consumer confidence through open data management practices; going beyond legal requirements to consistently declare what data they are collecting, and how it is used, before consumers ask.

Doing so will help build deeper lifetime value with audiences, without compromising brand integrity or individual privacy. It’s a win-win strategy for all: the advertiser, the agency, the publisher, the data partner and, most importantly, the customer.

Ad tech is a living beast. It’s constantly adapting to change and taking advantage of each development; and tougher privacy controls should be no different. Despite the industry’s affection for third-party cookies, reducing dependence on this traditional data supply could be what’s needed to help advertising reach the next level of evolution. Utilising higher quality data sources and a wider variety of targeting methods could signal the end of the first programmatic advertising age, and the beginning of a more trusted and engaging era.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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