Escaping the Sandbox: How Brands Can Independently Achieve Real Ad Results

By Jochen Schlosser, Chief Technology Officer, Adform

There’s no doubt about it – brands and agencies have a lot on their plate.

Whether it be the ongoing delays of third-party cookie deprecation, the continued fragility of the global economy, the increasing adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), or the rise of disruptive new channels; these are just a few of the many challenges facing advertisers.

One of the biggest issues is that a large amount of ad spend currently fails to reach working media. Made worse by the big tech platforms choosing to go into business for themselves, it is difficult for advertisers to understand how and where their spend is achieving results.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox is a prime example. Aside from providing lacklustre reporting, its web standards have been built and explained in a way that very few people have time, capacity and technical enough understanding to really “get it”.  Do advertisers need it, will it scale eventually and will it provide reasonable results; this is still difficult to answer right now.

What is easy to state is the following: brands must understand that this wholesale, opaque use of data is not the way forward. They should reject this general idea of being cut off more and more from the consumers or else they will increasingly lose control. Brands can do this by consolidating data within their own environments, and by employing the right solutions to drive effectiveness and transparency, including the granular reports for media activation. Of course, all of that needs to happen while respecting privacy and users choices.

Are you heading toward a more unequal future?

Brands should not hesitate to run tests and experiment with the solutions that will ultimately be the most effective. This includes the Privacy Sandbox. However, advertisers will discover that the solution is missing some crucial use cases.

Indeed, based on current testing and documentation, the Sandbox cannot support the transparency, control, and optimisation capabilities that advertisers need. As a result, it is only likely to create further inequalities within the ecosystem, providing the most opportunities to the larger platforms with scaled first-party data. This will force small and medium-sized publishers to collaborate with these major players or risk fading away into obscurity. This is bad news for the open internet and for competition in the market, as this is no longer a level playing field.

Furthermore, if the Sandbox is widely adopted, there will be increased need for regulation or enforcement thereof as even more power will sit with the “very large platforms” which already today operate the influential and scaled browsers out there. The mobile app ecosystem is already closed, and openness cannot be claimed anymore as there is no independent governance body that regulates the app economy. Is the browser-based web now going down the same path?

Choose the right solution for you

While cookie deprecation now has been kicked down the road yet again, advertisers cannot afford to wait for Google to satisfy both their and regulators’ needs. Instead, they should focus most of their attention and investment on those that offer results today. Scaling these approaches, proving that they work for all players out there, will improve the likelihood they come to stay.

And yes, already today, first-party based solutions can meet brand and performance goals that align directly with advertiser goals and outcomes while providing the needed transparency in a privacy-compliant way. These solutions can be utilised independently of any Sandbox testing, closing the significant use case gaps around brand advertising, incremental user reach, and frequency controls which reside “in the box”.

Google may want advertisers to think they have to rely on (and wait for) the tech giant to find success. But the truth is that amazing results can be unlocked outside of its Sandbox. Does that mean the Sandbox is not needed? For sure not, it might well be if it provides incremental or better results; there is just no reason to wait for it.

Yes, it may be scary to try something new, especially with large uncertainties in the world of digital advertising.  Will that ever stop, likely not, so advertisers better buckle up, and try to be a first or second mover as it does not cost a lot to prove that you can still reach your goals in the future, a future without cookies and – who knows – with or without the Sandbox.