Cookieless tech test gives Procter & Gamble hope—and TV networks worries
The marketing industry might have a workaround for measuring audiences and capping ad frequency across digital and TV platforms without using cookies. But the technology is far from certain to be ready before tracking cookies are set to disappear next year, and now a test of new cookieless technology faces early pushback from TV networks fearful of further losing ground to digital media.
Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard announced the test—which is backed by a broad range of global industry groups, digital platforms, media and measurement providers—in a wide-ranging virtual speech today during the Association of National Advertisers Media Conference, a hybrid event being held in Aventura, Florida.
Most publicity around Google ending use of tracking cookies in its ubiquitous Chrome browser and Apple limiting app-to-app personal data transfer have focused on how the moves shut down ad targeting. But they also could make it impossible to accurately measure audiences or regulate how often people see the same ad across platforms. The technology Pritchard referenced is meant to address that problem, which affects marketers even if they never target individuals with ads.
Pritchard also said P&G is sharing its database of more than 500 minority-owned or operated media with anyone in the industry who wants it to promote systemic change in media spending. In an interview he declined to set a percentage spending target but said P&G wants to outspend everyone else in the industry on minority-owned media.
He’s also pushing for better measurement of minority-owned media, and in an interview before his speech said he’s raised concerns with Nielsen CEO David Kenny from minority-owned and focused media about underrepresentation of minority audiences in TV ratings.
Pritchard also praised outgoing Facebook global ad chief Carolyn Everson for her pivotal role in developing the platform’s ad system and expressed confidence the team she left behind will “step up.” But he also expressed frustration with slow movement on one prior Facebook commitment—allowing its brand safety and content monitoring system to be audited by the Media Rating Council.
‘Good news’ on cross-platform measurement
“The good news is we have a technical solution for cross-platform measurement,” Pritchard said in his prepared remarks. It comes through collaboration among the ANA, World Federation of Advertisers, the U.K.’s advertiser trade group ISBA, Google, Facebook, Nielsen, Comscore and several other companies, Pritchard said. “But now we need to test and validate the proposed solution,” and that’s been a bit of a struggle.
Digital platforms are “ready to go,” Pritchard said. “But they want to make sure the TV broadcasters are part of the testing. The TV broadcasters are understandably nervous about the eagerness of the digital platforms because they fear that low-cost digital media will overtake premium TV content.”
Pritchard, who also chairs the ANA, said the group and board members recently met with broadcast executives and the TV networks’ trade group, the VAB, on two of their specific issues. One is finding a way to measure comparable value between digital ads and TV ads of different lengths, and the second is integrating the Open AP linear and connected TV cross-platform measurement system developed by several networks into the test.
Both requests “make sense,” Pritchard said, and the VAB has agreed to develop specific solutions that can be tested. “So, it’s time to get on with it and get tests in place on a specific timetable,” he said.
“Transparency is a good thing for the TV world,” Pritchard said. “Broadcasters have content people want to see. Like all of us, they may need to get more competitive in some ways, but having transparent information will create more value for the entire media industry. It’s time for all of us, our company included, to move beyond meetings, take action and avoid kicking the can down the road with new issues that get in the way of moving forward.”
Bill Tucker, group executive VP of the ANA’s data and technology practice, told Ad Age the technology to be tested would provide privacy-safe, anonymized tracking of individuals across media platforms for audience measurement and “frequency management” to ensure people don’t get inundated with the same ads across different media. He described it as a privacy-preserving “virtual ID” not connected to any marketer’s or media company’s first-party data and non-traceable to individuals. The data will be encrypted, and digital “noise” will be injected into the system as an extra layer of privacy protection, he said.
The test isn’t for ad targeting, but rather to allow for media planning, maximizing unduplicated reach, analyzing ad effectiveness and providing better user experience, Tucker said. “Excess frequency is really annoying,” he said. “It’s bad for advertising. And it wastes money.”
VAB CEO Sean Cunningham said in a statement that the 2021 arrival of Open AP’s “Open ID innovation” achieves many of the stated goals of the ANA-backed cross-media measurement initiative, including “deduplicated reach and frequency across all TV ad platforms, a better consumer ad experience, and better media optimization.” Cunningham said the VAB also cited content and context quality as an imperative for quantification in any measurement solution that includes TV.
Averting unintended consequences
Meanwhile, testing for the next generation of digital ad targeting approaches needs to happen faster, Pritchard said.
In the interview, he praised Google for helping get the industry ready by announcing more than a year in advance that it wouldn’t replace identifying cookies in Chrome with any other personal identifier and being transparent about its early steps toward a successor system to target audiences. That allows time for testing the replacements. But he expressed impatience about getting tests underway for Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) segmentation system as well as similar solutions Facebook is working on to provide “more relevant and personalized ad experiences on their platform, without needing to rely on app-to-app data transfer” that has been eliminated by Apple. He also noted The Trade Desk’s consent-based Universal ID to reach people across small publishers as an interesting solution that needs testing.
“It’s still early days, and so far, we have not tested any of these potential solutions to see how they might work, nor to identify what adjustments to media planning and buying will be needed,” Pritchard said.
“The deprecation of cookies and elimination of app-to-app data transfer is a monumental disruption—to consumer advertising and content experience and to the media industry,” he said. While P&G is willing to make needed changes, he said it needs time to test new solutions “before we change a system that has been built over decades.”
Rolling out changes without adequate testing, he said, means risking unintended consequences—such as ad fraud, lack of measurement transparency, data leaks and brand-safety issues that have plagued digital media for years.
'We want to be No. 1'
While several marketers have made specific spending commitments for minority-owned media, such as a group led by GroupM vowing to spend 2% of their budgets there, Pritchard said P&G isn’t making a specific commitment. But in the interview, he said: “We want to be No. 1. We want to be the No. 1 spender in Black-owned and operated, in Hispanic-owned and operated, in Asian Pacific, in Native American. Because we’re such a big spender, let’s be a leader.”
One thing that will enable more spending on minority-owned media, he said, is better data from Nielsen and others on how big the audiences really are and how to judge the impact of the spending. So, Pritchard said he’s been talking to Nielsen about better measuring the total dollar value of minority-owned media available and going beyond simple return on investment toward measuring around P&G’s “4 Rs” multicultural marketing framework (for reach, representation, relevance and resonance).
On the issue of TV ratings, Nielsen Chief Research Officer Mainak Mazumdar last month defended Nielsen’s weighting system for minority audiences as accurate.
Pritchard also said P&G is connecting data from Reset Digital and The Trade Desk “so money can flow programmatically to Black-owned and operated media inventory.”
The ANA’s board of 41 CMOs in May set several steps collectively toward “systemic investment equity,” Pritchard said. For its part, P&G will share its list of more than 500 minority-owned media companies with ANA members or anyone who wants it. And P&G is similarly making information about minority-owned and -staffed film crews and production houses it works with available to the industry through Free the Work.
Some of that work will be on display with a screening of films from P&G’s "Widen the Screen" program during the Tribeca Film Festival, with four documentaries from the Queen Collective partnership with Queen Latifah today and a film series from 8:46 Films tomorrow.
“Then were working with broadcasters and others on making sure we can get distribution after the event,” Pritchard said. The four Queen Collective films will run June 19 on BET, he said.
Facebook after Everson
Pritchard didn’t bring up Facebook’s leadership change in his speech, but in the interview credits Everson with “really helping build the Facebook advertising ecosystem" and helping advertisers “navigate the many changes, some good, many very challenging."
Pritchard said he met earlier this week Facebook’s global clients team and said, “You know, she’s just one person, and you need to make sure that you step up. The mark of a great leader is the team that steps up behind them. And I have confidence in them.” He mentioned in particular Director of Global Clients Will Platt-Higgins and Client Solutions Manager Samantha Stetson.
“Facebook will always have challenges, because of the nature of the platform,” Pritchard said. “But I think they’re up to those challenges.”
Everson was a key mover two years ago in launching the Global Alliance for Responsible Media alongside big marketers including P&G, major agencies and other media companies. Last year, amid an advertiser boycott, Facebook pledged to have its GARM-monitored system to ensure brand safety and root out objectionable content audited by the MRC. But a year later, Facebook hasn’t agreed to some details of GARM’s monitoring system, and so the MRC has yet to begin auditing it.
“When I say there are still challenges that is one of them,” Pritchard said. “The GARM safety and suitability standards, that was an expectation that we put to all platforms, and we expected adoption, and then we expected the MRC audit of that as well as coming up with new monetization approaches. One of the challenges is that the MRC auditing is still not in place. And that's important to us, and I think it's important to the industry.”
A Facebook spokesman says GARM’s “as-yet-unofficial” standards for its transparency reporting is not part of the scope for the MRC content monetization and brand safety controls audit at this point.
“We understand the standards will be incorporated eventually, but they have not been incorporated yet,” he says. At the same time, he noted that Facebook is going forward with a separate Ernst & Young audit to validate accuracy and completeness of numbers the platform publishes in its Community Standards Enforcement Report, which includes numbers included in the GARM Aggregated Measurement Report.