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News Plus 18 May 2021 - 3 min read

Attribution and targeting is about to break, but platform wars bring upside for brands and publishers, say Adobe, IAB, Magnite, Nine

By Brendan Coyne - Editor

Adapt targeting strategies or risk falling wide of the mark. Pic: iStock

Core digital marketing aspects such as prospecting, retargeting and attribution are about to break, or at least undergo reconstructive surgery. But the end game could be big wins for publishers and marketers that do the right thing by their data, audiences and customers. Execs from Nine, the IAB, Magnite and Adobe outline what brands can still do – and what they can't – and the upside.

What you need to know:

  • Marketers can still do prospecting via audience matching with big local publishers as well as global platforms.
  • Publishers have once in a lifetime opportunity to make rich, first party data work with brands' data and present safe options in an uncertain era.
  • The 'second fix' of measurement and attribution is secondary to rewiring of internet advertising; test and learn now, or lose. 

Some of digital advertising’s most basic tools, like prospecting and retargeting, will be significantly reduced as cookies are phased out and attribution will be another early casualty of big tech's sprint to avoid regulation, according to adtech, publishing and analytics execs.

Brands will still be able to audience match via Facebook, Google and local big publisher data platforms, according to Nine's Director of Advertising and Data Products, Ben Campbell. “All of that will still be possible in a world without third party cookies,” he told a Nine-hosted panel session that attempted to map out incoming marketplace changes – and their impact.

However, Campbell warned “the practice of taking anonymous audiences from your website – which is just a cookie – and then building a lookalike on top of that with cookie data and trying to target that audience across the open internet using a demand-side platform (DSP)… that will not be possible when cookies are phased out.”

Magnite MD, James Young, suggested that will tilt the power balance back towards publishers, which in the past saw their audiences easily poached and picked off by the intermediaries between publisher and advertiser, and most of those practices were done on behalf of advertisers.   

“There is a big [power] shift from the buy-side to the sell-side,” said Young. “Publishers will gain more ability to utilise their data assets more effectively – and not have buyers be able to come in [to their platform] and find their audiences without actually having a conversation with the publisher first.”

Young thinks the fundamental changes now underway mean marketers must initiate more direct conversations with publishers.

“Open market trading becomes more difficult because there isn’t a cookie to trade off and retarget an audience without talking to anyone,” he said.

“You need to look at things like washing your audiences with the publisher, creating a match, creating a database … and to then target them appropriately across the ecosystem.”


Measure for measure

While tech firms work up new ways to track ads from eyeball to conversion, the end of cookies will have a big impact on measurement and attribution in the short term, per the panel.

“What happens from our point of view is that attribution breaks a little bit, because you can’t obviously go across domains [anymore],” said Adobe’s Gabbi Stubbs.

But she thinks brands working with publishers via first party data could ultimately lead to better attribution and targeting – provided brands and publishers have consent and do the right thing by audiences. While Google and Apple’s enforcement approaches are not yet clear, those that try to cling to old world approaches, she said, will eventually get caught. 

“If you're doing the wrong thing... you're going to be sniffed out a little bit more quickly,” said Stubbs. “Whether that's in measurement or activation, it's not going to make a difference… every consent level should be accounted for.”

First fix, then attribution

Jonas Jaanimagi, Technology Lead at IAB Australia, said attribution will come – but connecting digital advertising’s architecture to key infrastructure is first priority.

“It feels like measurement and attribution … is happening a little bit later because we're getting the plumbing right. So the onus now is on collaborative testing,” said Jaanimagi.

He urged publishers and brands with large audiences to start testing with the likes of Google to get to grips with how their reporting – and broader digital operations – will change in the coming months.

“That testing must start now,” said Jaanimagi. “Its importance and impact cannot be underestimated.”

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