What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us to the Future. Why the Digital Advertising Industry Should Move Toward an Opt-in Internet

By James Bayes, General Manager – Australia and New Zealand, The Trade Desk

From pandemic, to boom and now moderate growth and rising inflation, the digital advertising industry has taken the last few years of upheaval in its stride. The industry has evolved into a sophisticated, exciting marketplace of ideas and opportunities. The next phase for of the industry is realising the potential of an opt-in internet.

Last week Google announced another delay to cookie deprecation within Chrome, but as an industry we have always known that the timeline would likely slide. This shouldn’t dampen the industry’s enthusiasm to collectively move away from archaic cookie technology into a new identity landscape that celebrates transparency, privacy and control and where the primary beneficiaries will be consumers and the brands that value them.

Marketers have always sought to keep consumer privacy at the heart of everything they do. Many have spent decades building trust with their most loyal customers, and they don’t want to do anything to jeopardise that. In fact, if the last few years have shown us anything, it’s that all they really want to do is deepen those relationships and find their next generation of loyal customers.

It is important to note that the large majority of the internet is primarily funded by relevant advertising. The more relevant the advertising, the more valuable it becomes, the more amazing content we all get to enjoy. Even premium streaming TV platforms now recognise this essential value exchange in fueling the current golden age of television.

We are all keenly aware that cookies were never designed to support digital advertising. They were originally invented by Netscape so you could store digital purchases in an online shopping cart. The ad industry simply co-opted them. They are, and never were, fit for purpose. Indeed, the advertising industry’s fastest-growing digital channels, such as broadcast video on demand (BVOD), have never relied on cookies.

Forward-thinking advertisers and publishers recognise that in this moment, there’s an opportunity to build a better, upgraded internet — one that preserves the essential value exchange of relevant advertising for free content, while putting users in the driver’s seat regarding their own privacy.

And let’s not kid ourselves. Without relevance, the value of advertising will  fall. And that would place key publishing sectors, including journalism, in serious jeopardy.

So how is our industry thinking about a new, better internet?  Well, one unforeseen consequence of cookies is that they created, over time, an opt-out internet.  If you want to protect your privacy, you have to go through a somewhat convoluted process of opting out of cookies, without any clear explanations. Already, Australian consumers have told us what we long knew to be true. Firstly, they don’t understand the role of cookies and what’s more, eight in 10 Aussies do not feel in control of their online data.

But in a post cookie environment, we will rapidly shift to an opt-in internet. We’re already well on the way. Think about BVOD, which is quickly becoming the fastest-growing digital advertising channel. Cookies don’t exist in the BVOD world. Instead, BVOD viewers are authenticated and logged in, almost always via an email address or phone number.

In the race to maximise advertising revenue, however, BVOD broadcasters recognise that they only have one piece of the puzzle. They know that advertisers will pay a certain amount, say $12, to reach 1,000 people watching the latest hot new reality show. But they’ll pay triple that if they also know those viewers are also potentially interested in their product. To accomplish that, the advertiser needs to marry their own first party data with the network’s opt-in viewer data.

And thanks to advances in identity technology, that connection can happen without either side sharing anything personal or identifiable about the viewer. Marketers, their agencies and their adtech partners are developing new ID technologies that safeguard consumer information and provide more consumer control. Publishers are putting in place new, lightweight single-sign-on tools that explain the value exchange of relevant advertising. And new interoperable currencies, such as Unified ID 2.0, are being activated to across the system to facilitate this new approach to advertising relevance.

And with this new, privacy conscious framework, advertisers can then model the market to find their next generation of loyal customers. That’s because new channels, such as BVOD, allow for much greater precision in terms of what content is being consumed and how; advances in areas such as retail data allow marketers to better understand and model the relationship between specific ads and consumer action; and with a transparent view into the entire open internet – The Trade Desk has line of sight into more than 10 million ads per second – marketers can be much more precise in analysing the entire market and finding new audiences with a likely interest in their product.

These innovations come as marketers become increasingly concerned about the limitations of walled gardens. These big tech platforms are building their walls higher, limiting transparency and competition, and trying to take the high ground on privacy while trading on consumer data within their own walls. At the same time, data suggests that the open internet may be a much more effective environment to reach new audiences, with consumers spending three quarters of their online time there.

Trust among consumers, advertisers and publishers will only happen in an open, transparent environment. As we move to a world beyond cookies, as an industry we have the opportunity to build a better internet that is based on new levels of trust and understanding, but which preserves the value exchange of relevant advertising for amazing, free content. Away from the constraints of walled gardens. And while every journey starts with a single step, we know we are well on the way.

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