With cookies set to expire, ad industry confronts its 'identity crisis'
So-called identity gardens—where marketers and brands manage first-party customer data to target consumers with ads—are popping up as the industry shifts away from third-party cookies.
Earlier this month, digital agency Merkle introduced its identity solution, Merkury. In December, Vox Media debuted its first-party data platform, Forte. Buy-side platform The Trade Desk and sell-side company Sonobi also have proprietary solutions. Others, including LiveRamp, are banding together with others to tackle identity.
“Digital identity has become a topic of its own,” says Joe Stanhope, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. “It’s come to the fore and everybody is trying to solve it.”
But, says Stanhope, “you won’t see one solution rule them all, but four or five that become accepted standards within the industry, which isn’t necessarily bad—there are hundreds of identity solutions today.”
Solutions are coming from all points in the digital ad ecosystem, including publishers, demand-side platforms, trade bodies and middlemen who operate in between.
“It’s still too early to tell whether the influx of identity solutions will prove to be beneficial or detrimental to marketers, as it could create a fragmented ‘identity garden’ approach,” says Krystal Olivieri, senior VP of global data strategy and partnerships at GroupM.
“The worst outcome would be if we see factions of publishers selecting different identity solutions and we experience further consumer fragmentation across each ‘identity garden,’” says Olivieri, “making cross-publisher frequency capping and understanding true reach impossible. The opportunities would be substantial if we’re able to avoid that outcome.”
Large publishers—which hold a wealth of first-party data and can encourage consumers to create an account with an email and login—are in a relatively strong position.
“The chatter around the industry has certainly heated up after the Chrome announcement, but none of it is unanticipated from our end,” says Ryan Pauley, chief revenue officer at Vox Media, referring to Google’s decision to eliminate third-
party cookies from its Chrome browser by 2022. “The change [to third-party cookies] is good for pubs, but only if they have a direct connection with their audience and scale.”
Vox—which recently purchased New York Magazine and has properties that include The Verge and SB Nation—launched Forte to enhance its relationship with its 125 million monthly visitors using data on what they read, where they live and how they arrived at a site.
“It gives us the unique opportunity to marry the context and the audience data with creative and then leverage that with consumer insights,” Pauley says.
Not all publishers have the resources to build their own tech, but can still succeed in a post-cookie world. LiveRamp, for instance, began preparing in 2016 for a life without cookies, says Travis Clinger, VP of global strategy and partnerships.
“There’s been a rumor that the cookie would go away for the last 10 years,” Clinger says. “Timing-wise, we were prepared before Google made its announcement.”
LiveRamp connects data between buyers and sellers by matching a publisher’s first- party data with a brand’s. Last December, the first publisher went live using LiveRamp’s Authentication Traffic Solution, or ATS. The free product matches logged-in users with a brand’s first-party data. LiveRamp’s marketing customers can thus continue to target consumers as if third-party cookies never went away, while publishers capture found revenue, says Clinger.
LiveRamp’s identity solutions also include working with 30 demand-side platforms, which marketers use to buy ads; sell-side platforms like Index Exchange, which publishers use to sell ads; and ad tech companies such as Criteo.
Meanwhile, The Trade Desk, which is used by most agencies, isn’t a LiveRamp partner. It’s working to develop its own solution for customers.
Marketers are expected to continue spending with Google, Facebook and Amazon, since they have the largest authenticated audiences in the world. Google, for instance, announced Privacy Sandbox, which it says will allow publishers and advertisers to continue to target ads to consumers without violating privacy. Details have yet to be announced.