The Advertising Industry Will Soon Find Itself Back at Where It Started

Clock representing going back in time

By Ben Dimond, Head of EMEA for Playground xyz

Many in the media and advertising profession revere the modern-classic television series, Mad Men. Filled with office drama of that era, Mad Men depicted a salacious vision of advertising agencies of the 1960s. Back then, the value proposition of advertising agencies were really quite simple: A team or star creative would develop a concept. They would produce the print and television versions of the concept, then decide where to place each version of the ad based entirely on demographics provided by tv outlets, magazines or newspapers.

A simple proposition by today’s standards, the work of Mad Men was a straightforward test of creativity, ad placement and the measurement of eventual sales of a product. Advertisers will need to reach back to this formula as we move beyond cookies in the digital ecosystem of today.

Before understanding where digital advertising is going, we must first acknowledge that the concept of cookies was always a little fraught. Nobody likes the idea of being surveilled, yet for nearly two decades companies, brands and agencies did just that with technology that enabled surreptitious tracking. It took some time but consumers and regulators have now made it clear that they won’t abide such blatant, cookie-based monitoring.

Further, an advertising purist would surely frown upon the idea that you could covertly monitor your target demo, collect their intimate internet surfing data, and then present the opportunity to buy a product you know they’ve been exploring for purchase.

Past is Prologue

When we finally arrive at our full cookieless future, marketers will have a handful of new tools at their disposal. Universal IDs, data clean rooms, interoperable customer data platforms and many others are aspiring to replace the effectiveness of the cookie. But searching for an effective cookie replacement is missing the ‘part art, part science’ demonstrated by media buyers of the pre-internet world.

A principal analyst at Forrester, John Arnold, published Follow Martech And Adtech To The Audience-As-A-Strategy Era. Among other things, Arnold puts forth his observation that AWS’ clean rooms announcement points to a “new era” of audience as a strategy. The only disagreement I’d put forth is the notion that the audience-as-a-strategy is “new” at all. It isn’t. If you wanted to sell cigarettes to stay-at-home moms (a creative brief brought forth countless times in the 1960s), you’d have to consider where these stay-at-home moms might see your ad. You would want to know their favorite publications, television shows or radio programs and analyze what share of the audience you could secure against the size of your budget.

Put simply, you’d have to consider and solve for context.

Context is King

Modern marketers would tell you that creativity in advertising is only half the battle but it is an important half. The ability to capture attention and harness it to provoke a desired behavioral outcome is the foundational task of creative production. The other half of advertising success is to identify the proper context in which an ad should be displayed.

AI has the power to identify the ideal context for ad placements across content types, which can then be measured for attention by a viewer. The technology now exists to measure actual human attention via eye-tracking panels, then extrapolate it against context to further optimize placements or adjust the creative that is served. It is in many ways the equivalent of getting feedback on campaign creative from a focus group, except the feedback is immediate and makes adjustments without the need of a human to “tinker with” campaign settings. It’s a way of supercharging measurement to get the best possible outcomes.

As our industry fights through to the other side of the cookie era, one thing is clear: Replacing the cookie will not be easy. It might not even be fully possible. In the event that does become the case, I’m happy there are lessons from our past that can inform how we contextualize ad placements without covert behavioral tracking.