4 Myths and 1 Bad Thing About Behavioral Ads

The following article originally appeared in slightly different form in AdExchanger on April 21, 2023.

Privacy is hotter than a habanero right now – and it’s coming for your ads.

The zeitgeist has turned. Despite recent protests to the contrary, the FTC embraces “surveillance” as a metaphor for ad tech, and the cultural elite is even less happy. A recent op-ed in the New York Times, by Julia Angwin, implicated the industry in many dismal practices, including election-rigging, news-defunding and even inflation.

It’s difficult to find anyone wiling to make a case for the defense. If someone were to do it, they might start with these four myths:

1. Advertisers Follow You Around the Web

Only the phone company and your browser can follow you around the web. Angwin claimed: “Tech firms track neverly every click from website to website….” It would surprise her to learn that the vast majority of clicks on the web are neither tracked by advertisers nor available for sale.

Take the best-case scenario (or worst-case, depending on your POV): retargeting. That’s the classic example of the shoes-that-followed-me-around, etc. What does the retargeter know? That (1) your browser loaded a particular item, (2) that browser is on a publishers’ site. That’s it. Better than nothing – but far from a map of your entire web journey.

And by the way, that advertiser has no idea who you are (unless you told them). You’re anonymous. Contrast this with the offline world, where it’s easy to get a file of recent movers – say –  from the U.S. Postal Service, and they’re not anonymous.

2. Targeted Ads Hurt Publishers

This is the easiest claim to debunk. Certainly, the internet itself has been hard on print, as cable and then streaming services have bopped linear television. Global revenue for newspapers is down by two-thirds in two decades, and this is not good news for anyone.

Targeted ads did not cause this decline; the internet did. For whatever reason, online ads don’t command the same prices as offline ads per impression. But if you’d like to find a better culprit, look at CraigsList. For decades, classified ads were a cash cow for publishers, particularly local papers. Classified ad revenue for U.S. newspapers fell from $20 billion to $2 billion in the last two decades.

Any publisher will tell you targeted ads are usually worth more per impression than less-targeted ads. Better targeting makes ads more relevant; more relevant ads are more likely to get a response; that response is worth more to an advertiser. It’s just math. There’s a reason ad targeting happened.

Big publishers are the most vocal defenders of targeted ads. Some of them are even going to court to try to save the cookie.

3. Targeted Ads Hurt People

The challenge here is in finding a harm caused by targeting – and not just by ads in general, or by an unethical advertiser who is violating existing consumer or other protections.

For example, a recent study out of Carnegie Mellon concluded that products shown in digital ads were lower quality, compared to search. The study is quite puzzling: display and search work very differently, and it’s difficult to see how a consumer is actually hurt by seeing an ad for a cheaply-made product.

Higher-margin products – from Veg-O-Matic to class-action lawsuits – always advertise. They’re what keep late-night cable TV and the Home Shopping Network in business. As consumers, we’re free to make our own choices.

More seriously, targeted ads are blamed for tipping elections and spreading falsehoods. The Ban Surveillance Advertising Act proposed last year, said: “It fuels disinformation, discrimination, voter suppression, privacy abuses, and so many other harms..” Again, no specific instances are raised, and there is ample evidence that ads alone don’t tip elections anyway.

If the advertiser is selling a harmful product or lying, that’s the responsibility of the FTC and Truth in Advertising. We all remember smoking ads, or at least saw Mad Men. None of those were “microtargeted.”

4. Eliminating Targeting Eliminates Tracking’

Since Chrome announced the deprecation of the you-know-what three years ago, there’s been a shift toward first-party data. Brands try to get more of it; tech companies build tools to move it along. It all makes perfect sense.

Winners are companies with their own troves of first-party data. Large retailers are loving retail media. These players naturally know what you do on their sites, combine it with other data and insights, and package it up for advertisers. They got an opt-in sometime a while back (it’s in the T&C’s).

Yet that’s not “surveillance.” Nor is search, although it might surprise critics to learn that search data – often more personal than cookie-data – is observed, and sometimes informs ad targeting.

It seems that third-party data collection (retargeting shoes) is a convenient target for angst when the far more potent profiles and power lies with these growing first-parties.

One Bad Thing About Targeted Ads

Third-party cookies need a reset; they were not designed for ad tech anyway. Few defend pixel-synching in its current state. Ironically, the bad thing about targeted ads is that they aren’t subtle. They’re often lower-funnel, so they tend to be less creatively appealing anyway.

And they’re part of a system that doesn’t have a handle on phenomena that bother consumers. Take frequency capping, the scourge of CTV. That’s a symptom of a system not knowing enough about (anonymous) consumers, rather than the opposite.

Nobody’s defending invasion of privacy or unethical ads. But it’s time to put up some kind of defense for basic ad targeting, before it’s too late.

What the Past Tells Us About the Future of Ad Tech

We’re at the Rosewood Sand Hill, optimally close to Kleiner Perkins and the banks that whisper out our future like the oracles of air. No conspicuous consumption; in fact, we’ve moved beyond consumption into non-consumption, all electric and non-meat, so faithful are we to our own shared abundance.

And onto the stage comes a slightly seedy character, no longer young, ironic in the way of the 1990s, inhabiting a gestalt that’s gone. It’s me, in fact: about to argue yet again the importance of forgotten history to a room full of futurists. This is what you may have missed

1. We Start with Netscape

The internet predates the browser, but the browser was the box on which we built the web. Before Mosaic and – more significantly – its virtual spin-out Netscape, launched in 1994, the internet consisted of academic cultists and gardens like AOL and CompuServe with walls so high they blocked out the sun; they weren’t the answer.

Mosaic was “achingly beautiful,” in the words of Vint Cerf, a project emerging from protocols developed by the British physicist Tim Berners-Lee (HTML, HTTP). Mosaic put images on the web, after a battle. It made hypertext easy. Developed by unpretentious hackers at the University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), it was profiled in the New York Times, which failed to mention its actual makers, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina.

Thus stung by lab politics, Andreessen and then Bina and others agreed to join Silicon Graphics’ founder Jim Clark in the Bay Area to build a better Mosaic. It went public in 1995 and started the dot-com boom, through no fault of its own. Everybody was excited by Netscape; especially Microsoft, which promptly tried to bury it.

And while the academic internet was explicitly anti-commercial, Netscape was not. Nor were many of the publications that bravely stood up online, such as HotWired.com, the digital porting of the digiterati’s lifestyle manual: Wired magazine. Portals like Jerry Yang and David Filo’s link roster Yahoo! were initially anti-ad – as was Google at launch, five years later, — but ads got inevitable. From the beginning, nobody seemed to want to subscribe to bits on a screen or use a credit card online.

Ads were the only way to pay.

On the Netscape homepage was an early “live cam” (updated every few seconds) of a fishtank. It sat on the desk of a 24 year-old engineer named Lou Montulli. Now Lou was not part of the original NCSA cadre but was merited in due to his popular text browser Lynx, written while he worked the help desk part time in the Computer Lab at the University of Kansas, between racquetball games.

And Montulli of course – as everyone who has followed me since my Gartner days knows – invented the browser cookie. As he told me, it was to enable a shopping cart in the stateless-by-design internet, and immediate adoption by ad workers was not in the plan. Montulli decided to enable third-party cookies by default not because he wanted to invade anyone’s privacy but quite the opposite: he wanted the whole thing to be unobtrusive and transparent.

In other words, he made the engineer’s mistake of assuming that because a feature exists (we have always had the power to turn off our cookies), it actually exists. In fact, nobody bothered to look.

Lesson #1: Whoever owns the browser software, controls the Internet (i.e., Apple, Google).

2. The Dot-Com Ad Network Boom

In the 1990s, everything was an ad network. There was no real-time bidding on anything, and even big publishers didn’t have a big online ad business. Scaled large websites like NYTimes.com and WSJ.com weren’t scaled enough to attract TV money, at first, and smaller websites (i.e., everyone else) had neither staff nor knowledge, buyers nor technology, to extract rents from the web on their own.

So we have the ad networks, which do the work of signing up lots of publishers so they can go to ad buyers and offer them something they might actually want – millions of impressions across thousands of websites, never mind where. A natural extension of this middleperson model is the software that sits between publishers, ad buyers and agencies, deciding which ads to run, when, and counting what occurs.

This software is called an ad server, and many ad networks built their own ad servers, or tried, until the leaders emerged. This emergence happened quickly: by 1996, DoubleClick was dominant, and when it acquired on-premise rival NetGravity in 1999, it was super-dominant. People forget DoubleClick started as an ad network, and its ad server was a tool for the sellers. SaaS as a margin machine wasn’t real until the Y2K.

DoubleClick had the virtue of swagger; it was unapologetic in its quest for excess. Its hyper-charismatic, raven-haired co-founder Kevin O’Connor threw out business plans that were too cautious: “How does that lead to total domination?!” DoubleClickers loved him, and everyone in New York media wanted to work at DoubleClick in 1999. I tell you this from memory.

Silicon Alley – triangulated roughly around the Flatiron region, cheaper than midtown and convenient to the R and 6 – was a publicists’ pitch pushed by DoubleClick and the city of New York. The company’s logo was on just about every lamppost in lower Manhattan. Skywriters flew over beaches in the Hamptons telling ad buyers their campaigns were safe, the machines were on it.

And they were. Business was built – again, absolutely openly – on the compilation of a file against every DoubleClick cookie and I.P. address, appended with third-party data like location. With almost every premium publisher in its network, DoubleClick had a cookie on all our browsers, and so read much (not all) of our etheric adventures.

It was only when O’Connor acquired Abakus to insert real names and addresses into the pseudonymous cookie profile did USA Today, and then everyone else, raise a hand. But this was in 2000-01, when we all had other problems.

There was one outlier, a brave ad network that took a principled stand against dropping third-party cookies on browsers, for privacy reasons. It was a sortie that did not connect. In the 1990s, WebConnect was most definitely on the wrong side of history.

Lesson #2: Ad dollars flow to places with more information, not better ethics.

3. The Rise of Retargeting

Retargeting is the killer app for digital ads.

There is a very simple reason for this: it works.

In the 2000’s, ads targeted based on specific things we did in our browsers got at least 3X better engagement than non-retargeted ads, however we measured. Of course, many people claim to have invented this miracle-grow: Advertising.com, TACODA, MySpace, Criteo, BlueLithium/Yahoo. But it seems to have been invented quite naturally by DoubleClick, sometime around the dot-com crash.

Retargeting works, but it has a signal flaw. It is very easy to notice. In fact, we might say most civilians did not even suspect the persistence of cookies and targeted ads until retargeting gave them a clue.

Slowly at first, and then with more persistent vigor and rage, the ad-that-followed-me combined with a generalized uptick in paranoia to create a climate of conspiracy around the ad business. We went from being Mad Men to madmen with malodorous intent.

We have the spectacle, in the later 2000’s, of otherwise circumspect journalists reporting their businesses closer to the grave with richly-researched deep dives under ominous titles such as “The Privacy Project” (“I Visited 47 Sites. Hundreds of Trackers Followed Me” – New York Times) and “What They Know” (“They Know What You’re Shopping For” – Wall Street Journal).

Web surfing for the cultural elite assumed the soundtrack of a horror film. Yes, they probably do know what you did last summer.

Looking at Google Trends data over the past two decades, interest in ‘tracking’ has indeed swelled – even as interest in a randomly-selected fad (in this case: ‘Bieber,’ in red) has fallen off the cyber-cliff.

Lesson #3: In the long run, it is more profitable to be gentle with your superpowers.

4. The Epochal Moment Called 2018

Everything changed in 2018. Certainly Snowden had an impact, five years earlier, but his concerns were largely abstract, existential and political. He and his outraged adherents had much more important things on their minds than mere ads.

Which brings us to Mark Zuckerberg. He appeared in front of two Senate committees two years after the 2016 presidential election and some time after a German magazine revealed Facebook had given unredacted network data to a Cambridge researcher, who’d sold it to a conservative consulting firm called Cambridge Analytica. (Meta settled this case only last month, by the way.)

Nothing happened out of the senators’ naive posturing, but an estimated 80 million people saw part of the hearings – and everyone knew they were on. This was a yellow-card moment in digital; another ping at the populus. This time, for the first time, we started to look at our phones with suspicion. Our apps were watching us too.

By no coincidence, 2018 was also the year that digital ad spend overtook offline – that is, digital won – and the share of the triopoly (Google, Meta, Amazon) exceeded 80/20, including search. Digital became the dominant dimension in ads, and a handful of mastodons maneuvered for control.

Zuckerberg’s appearance in 2018 almost forced Apple to do what it did, two years later.

Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) and the App Tracking Transparency framework (ATT) flexed the power of the browser and OS owner. We noted this with Netscape, and we see it again. Google was peer-pressured into blog posts and a Privacy Sandbox of professorial interest, while Apple filled a vacuum left by our Congress, appointing itself Neighborhood Watch for the World Wide Web.

Two things to mention here:

One, Apple’s specific tactics aren’t as important as its heuristic decision to make data collection contingent on an explicit opt-in by the user. We need to say “Yes.” Which makes sense until we ask the logical question: “Yes to what?” And we’re caught in the sepulchral eddy of the Privacy Paradox, which states that it’s almost impossible to make an intelligent decision about whether we do or do not want to “opt in” to collection of … what? … for what purpose? … and by whom?

Most of us don’t care. We click yes or no depending on our prejudice. (I always click yes.) Also, whether we’ve heard of the brand. And we’re grandfathered into the big apps like Amazon, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok. In fact, we have no idea what they know, and they don’t really have to tell us.

Two, nobody wants untargeted ads. Trust me on this. We might romanticize an experience of anonymity, but I challenge you to live it – as I did, — disable your trackers, obscure your I.P., use a VPN, and just look at the ads you’re served up: a late-night-cable-TV hodgepodge of personal pizza, car caddies, weight loss lies and class-action lawsuits.

Irrelevance has never been so loud.

Lesson #4: Apple is taking the place of a well-ordered Government today.

5. What’s Coming Next

As much as we crave good direction, howling in despair, the ad market still obeys its formulas. We need addressability and accountability; targeting and measurement. We target based on real information, inferred information, at a person- or a cohort-level, and then there is context (time, publisher, page, device). Measurement is an art form in itself and has never been exactly precise.

Building a campaign, we start closest to the point of decision – if we can – and build out from there; again, starting with those places where we have the most control, or think we have. So many times we start with paid search because it’s (1) close to the point of decision, and (2) in our control. We’ll overpay to meet these criteria. And so on, out into the wild terrain of unknown ad networks and disconnected TV.

Given the principles of proximity to a sale and greater information, where do we look?

Until it perfects its in-app storefront, Facebook/Instagram is hampered by its distance from the end zone. That’s why it needed the mobile ad ID (MAID). So-called retail media – which is living its own wonder years right now – can place ads close to the point of purchase and record a sale. It’s an ideal environment limited only by immature tech (in most cases) and the narrow data sets.

And it seems very safe to me to say that we are in desperate need of new ad formats.

Paid search is the most successful, and it was entirely unpredicted. Banner ads feel like a retreat to the mean. McLuhan tells us the content of any medium is always another medium. Digital is growing up and out of that, at last.

Look at the #Influencer phenomenon, reaching perhaps $13 billion this year. Those are blatant product pushes, in our pockets, from figures not too proud to beg – and they work. That’s digital for you. What about product placement? Imagine tools that paint products into sets (and eventually dialogue) without a seam. They’re coming soon. I call these “non-ad ad formats.”

Soon we’ll all just call them ads-as-usual.

So where does that leave the hard-working brand? You know that you need first-party data, but it doesn’t have to be your own. If you have it, scale it; get a Customer Data Platform (CDP). If you don’t, you’ll just need to ride along with someone else’s, once Montulli’s cookie’s gone. Don’t worry, though: those ‘someone else’s’ (Amazon, Disney, NBCU, Uber) – they all know you’re coming.

They’ll be ready. There will always be a way to advertise.

Happy New Year!

What’s Going On with Digital Marketing & Ads

This lavishly illustrated article is based on a talk I gave not long ago at the ANA Masters of Data event in Orlando and at Salesforce Connections in Chicago. It could interest cats wanting an overview of the state of digital marketing and ads, with an emphasis on worry beads. As usual, if you’re already a genius, I have nothing to tell you.

Now if you’ve noticed more speed in the digital space in recent years, you’re right. Of course the pandemic raised the velocity of digitization, but the real change had happened before 2020. In a phrase: digital won.

share of US ad spend

Advertising is a proxy for attention, so the movement of ad spend into the digital realm is an expression of our virtual migration. The –verse is already meta: we’re living in the ether. Those of us who remember the early 2000’s when digital was maybe 10-15% of ad spend at the most innovative shops, and most of that was search – well, we knew this would happen, but we’re surprised that it did.

There’s big money here, which is the best explanation for all the battles over IDs and OSs and privacy rights I can give you. On a related note, it’s also become an increasingly concentrated business. Pareto rules as 80% of the rewards go to just three companies: Alphabet (aka Google), Meta and Amazon. There’s a theory in market strategy called “The Rule of 3,” which is self-explanatory, and there’s some analogy to the Big 3 networks of the 1970’s.

To be clear: it’s not all about the third-party cookie. Cookies were the CNS of programmatic ads and tactics like retargeting, but they’ve been ebbing out for years. Mobile apps don’t use them, nor does search. Apple’s Safari browser defaulted away from them a half-decade ago; only Google’s Chrome remains loyal, and as you know the sand’s running down there as well.

We’re already living in the ‘cookieless world.’ In VERY round numbers, here’s a rough breakdown of digital ad spent in the U.S.

breakdown of US ad spend

If you figure half of ad spend still goes to linear channels, then your perfectly proportioned big-media mover is likely allocating something less than 10% of her budget on cookied media.

Speaking of cookies – as I so often do, making me lethal at parties – we do have the pandemic partly to blame for what I like to call the Longest Death Scene in History. Google’s Chrome blog announced their departure in January, 2020, and has subsequently extended the final flicker to some vague moment late in 2023 or beyond ….

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So What’s Going On?

Let’s remember a concept called expected value. As we learned in business school, expected value is a product of (what something is worth) x (how likely you are to get it). So if the jackpot is $1 million and my odds are one in a million, that lottery ticket is worth $1 to me.

That’s how digital marketing works. Take an ad. When figuring how much to pay for it, the smart media planner will more or less think: (what is a positive outcome worth) x (how likely is it to happen)? In other words, they try to estimate what part of the audience will respond to the ad and what a “response” means in dollars.

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This math is easier to describe than to do. How would you treat a car ad, that might raise awareness but inspire few sales – at least, this year? You might know the value; what’s the P? But the principle abides, and it helps explain a phenomenon we can call the Late Night Cable Ad Experience.

Imagine you’re on your sofa and it’s 2 a.m. and you’re randomly scrolling through cable. Those ads are barely targeted at you at all. And what you’ll see – so I hear – are a lot of ads for medications and class-action lawsuits and for food and cleaning products. In other words, either very expensive or very common items.

Why? It’s the expected value. When messages can’t be targeted very well, they will default to those with a very high P (hit rate) or those with a very high value; that is, the mass-iest of the mass market stuff and things like lawsuits, where you could have one in a million respond and still pay for the campaign. As marketers lose the ability to target on the open web through data deprecation, every ad experience in the wild will converge on cable.

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It’s my theory that most consumers only think they don’t like targeted ads. In truth, we’ve become so used to applied data for aiming and attributing messages that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be anonymous. It’s not pretty. Nobody remembers the mid-1990s and the beginning of the internet, but it was full of irrelevant emails and ads.

Apple has an on-and-off relationship with media, but it’s decided that “privacy” is its brand and an explicit opt-in is required for any kind of cross-domain view. Its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework is only a year old but has had a major impact on mobile networks. The Financial Times made some noise with its second-half 2021 estimates of lost revenue, due to ATT:

  • Meta – $8B lost revenue
  • Snap – $600M lost
  • Twitter – $400M lost

One surprise winner in FT’s analysis was … Apple, whose paid search ads business in its iTunes store was a significant gainer.

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How did this happen? Mobile apps don’t use cookies because they don’t run in browsers; they’re equipped with a mobile ad ID (MAID) which is persistent and unique at the level of the operating system. Before ATT, this MAID-based system was better than cookies because it required less cumbersome ‘synching.’ Mobile ad networks like the Facebook Audience Network (FAN) used it to target and measure in-app ads very well.

In fact, many digital-first businesses focused most of their media spend on the singular channel of Facebook/Instagram ads. Back in 2017, the New York Times magazine ran a story headlined: “How Facebook’s Oracular Algorithm Determines the Fates of Start-Ups.” It was about just how powerful Facebook ad targeting was.

A lot of these businesses used Shopify as their commerce platform. Not surprisingly – but rather dramatically – the roll-out of ATT also had an impact on Shopify. Well before the recent market meltdown, Shopify’s market cap was cut in half from its peak.

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(h/t Eric Seufert)

At the RampUp event earlier this year, I saw a presentation from a large publisher estimating the impact on their ad prices due to ID loss. They used Safari’s cookie deprecation as a proxy for estimating what would happen when cookies disappeared in Chrome. The punch line was: down 50%.

As a general rule, we can say the cookie (or MAID) doubled the marketers’ ability to find a likely customer.

So Who Is Fixing This?

Some are trying, and some don’t think there’s anything to fix. A few years ago esteemed Apple privacy engineer John Wilander described the situation nicely in this thread on Twitter. (Note that his phrase “There may be problems worth solving that were previously solved with third-party cookies” reduces two decades of ad tech innovation to a triviality.)

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Privacy Sandbox. You’re likely aware that the World Wide Web is tuned up by a large and largely anonymous volunteer army, technical types who hold long calls over years and process fixes large and small through committees into production. From its foundations in HTML and TCP/IP, protocols are what makes it a Web, after all.

Browsers are overseen by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and its various Community Groups and Business Groups. This is where Google’s Chrome engineers and others bring their proposals for the post-cookie world, and they’re discussed more or less openly by Apple, Mozilla, Meta, and others. You’ve heard of the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ and FLOCs and FLEDGEs and so on; this is where they nest.

We started with anonymized cohorts generated by the browsers (FLOCs) … moved to a less detailed version of the same with more randomness (TOPICS) … and are now excited about publisher-defined cohorts. Basically, we’re left with publishers (and in one proposal, browser users, aka, us) labeling ourselves for targeting.

So far, we’ve learned what won’t work – but not much about what will. Tension is fundamental – and perhaps irreconcilable – between people who hold:

  • Theory A: Browsers and apps can collect some form of information safely, without explicit opt-in
  • Theory B: Opt-in should be required for everything

Although so much is in flux now, it’s entirely believable that Chrome and Safari, Android and IoS, Mozilla and Edge will all have different rules in the end. Debates are in terms that have not been defined. What is “privacy”? What is “consent”? What is love – baby don’t hurt me …?

On that penultimate point, not enough legislative chutzpah has been pointed at the language of the opt-in box itself. It seems to me more important than anything else. Theory B assumes we average humans are actually equipped to know (1) exactly what data is collected about us; and (2) exactly what ‘personalization’ looks like. I’m not so sure. (Look up the ‘privacy paradox’.)

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Note that Apple’s language (on the right) for its own ad experience is somewhat more attractive than the frowsty boilerplate it issued for ATT (middle). One woman’s “tracking” is another ones’ show of respect.

What Happens Now?

Digital marketing is a field that’s weathered teething and teen years, gone to college in a difficult political climate, and is old enough now to think about moving out of the basement. The first commercial browser, Netscape, was launched in 1995, making our Web 27 years old. Yes – definitely time to grow up.

Maturing is messy. There’s experimentation; fits and starts. We try one direction, go to Europe, and come home with a different look and outlook. Fundamentals apply; we’ve got a bright future. And we’ve got to play by the rules; we’ve got to adapt.

Marketers are adapting, fast. In my travels virtual and real these past few years, I’ve seen nothing but admiration for the challenge and a willingness to work. Stripping out the arbitrary vectors, what do we marketers need? I like the IAB’s framework, reducing requirements down to two categories: Addressability (finding people), and Accountability (measurement).

Both will always be possible; it’s their precision that’s in transit.

Some conclusions about the future seem reasonable to me. We can take these as likely hypotheses for planning:

  • User-level IDs will require opt-in to share (this includes IP address and maybe email)
  • Marketers have to get better at demonstrating data use
  • Publishers and people have some control over their labels (if they want to)
  • Measurement becomes a complex mesh of next-gen MMM and testing (see Analytic Partners)
  • First-party data builds competitive advantage

Yes, let’s talk about 1PD. First-party data isn’t new, nor is the idea of a ‘single view of the customer.’ What’s new are improvements in technology’s ability to support the V’s of big data (velocity, variety …) at reasonable rates. It makes sense to organize, harmonize and deduplicate your customer and prospect information, gathered with consent.

This is where the mighty Customer Data Platform comes to help you, and I’ve co-written a book with the multifaceted Chris O’Hara about this very topic (see B&N or Amazon: “Customer Data Platforms”).

It makes sense to try to collect more 1PD/0PD using increasingly inventive techniques.

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And that’s what marketers are doing. Just ask them. I thought it was puissant that the IAB/Ipsos State of Data report this year named two ‘solutions’ to deprecation challenges: (1) gather more first-party data, and (2) analytics.

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These answers seem right to me, but they’re also something of a holy rosary. We don’t have data: we’ll get more. We don’t know what to do with it: We’ll ask the machines. Of course, we all know it isn’t that easy, and I recall from my Gartner days that spending on marketing data science is generally rewarded. But the tone is defensive.

So what’s going on? We’ll stop here. The most mysterious impact on digital marketing’s future will come from forces we’ve barely mentioned: legislatures and mergers & acquisitions. A government could decide tomorrow that ad targeting is illegal and marketing is mind control.

Let’s hope for sanity. It always has a chance.