New research from Campaign, Forrester and the World Federation of Advertisers is painting a complex picture of marketing in a world of stricter consumer privacy rules, where third-party cookies are phased out and brands rely more heavily on their own consumer data and stewardship of it.
Sixty percent of brands suggest adopting better privacy practices can become an advantage to make marketing more effective in a world where data gathering could ideally become more reciprocal for the consumer. Yet Campaign360's opening high-level discussion representing brands, media agencies, publishers and adtech solutions suggests a realistic picture is far more complex and may involve scaling back on personal data and common marketing practices to restore consumer trust.
A fair value exchange of personal data
“As we move towards brands being much more active in the collection of data, there's a growing awareness that it's not just about being compliant with GDPR and other regimes. It's about creating a really fair value exchange for the public that they enjoy and want to take part in,” said David Porter, VP Global Media at Unilever and APAC VP of the World Federation of Advertisers. “That’s going to be the secret sauce in terms of brands winning in this new regime.”
According to Samantha Pearlson, general manager of client services at The Trade Desk, advertisers already have an advantage in this region as consumers understand the value exchange of the free internet more than their EMEA and US counterparts, according to their own study.
“What we found in our research is that about half of the APAC consumers are willing to share information about their online interests to enable relevant advertising in exchange for free online content. And this is significantly higher, as only one-third of the consumers in EMEA and US are willing to share information to enable relevant advertising,” she explained.
But skepticism remains as to how willing consumers may be. The Campaign-Forrester-WFA research suggests most brands, agencies and publishers feel consumers don’t yet understand the value, something Porter suggests is hard to reverse if they have felt spammed for so long.
GroupM APAC CEO Ashutosh Srivastava agreed, noting it’s time to be honest and move forward. “Let's face it, it’s not that we as an industry have covered ourselves in glory by doing highly relevant contextual targeted advertising all the time. As you can see, there is lots of spam, lots of unwanted messages pop up to interrupt the consumer experience. So in theory, yes, there is information which exists which can create a great value exchange. But in reality, as an industry, more often not.”
Richa Goswami, group head of customer and international at HSBC, said brands and marketers can sometimes overestimate just how badly consumers want to provide information to access products or services. So in her work, recent efforts to provide more financial literacy to some customers can be a more relevant and contextual opportunity to share knowledge rather than gleaning information to simply push financial products to the consumer, for example.
While Srivastava noted there is a lot of work still to be done, he said growing awareness will help keep the industry focused on more responsible advertising that works better for people by using whatever signals are gathered to make the experience more relevant.
Part of the problem that has created the most distrust in the past, said Ian Hocking, VP of digital at the South China Morning Post, is that too much of data collection on consumers has been done without their knowledge, nevermind consent, so that their initial reaction now to any value exchange is one of skepticism.
“[Users] surely don't understand the value difference between a disclosed ID [opting in and giving us their consent] versus an undisclosed ID and what difference that makes on the whole ecosystem," Hocking said. "All they know is that we talk about tracking and data breaches, all those things sound bad to a user. So in the end, I don't think you can blame the individual consumer for being worried about privacy, and opting out, when they get that opportunity placed in front of them.
“Perhaps instead, some of the larger big tech firms and platforms could stop using privacy as a tactic for financial gain, warn the average consumer about what could happen if things go wrong, and genuinely put the effort into creating a universal standard for a better open web,” he added.
In preparation for a cookieless world, however, the Campaign-Forrester-WFA research found that only 3% of brands graded their consent management processes as “very sophisticated”.
Porter noted the pace of change around identity solutions and rules has shifted from a timeline of years to one of months, and suggested that one of the reasons brands don’t have absolute clarity on processes is because they don’t yet have clarity from the market around which new cookieless solutions will be workable in all their APAC markets. But he suggested this would change quickly in the next four or five months, and urged those members who haven’t yet started on the path to do so.
Discord around new cookieless solutions
Indeed, adding to the complexity is the sheer number of new identity solutions. Recent analysis by marketing trade group MMA Global and Prohaska Consulting identified 80 solutions being developed in the market. When inserted into what some brands already describe as a murky supply chain, it becomes even trickier to navigate.
“They are all at different stages and lots of people are making claims. These are the things which can take you in the wrong direction and just create another opaque landscape which all of us always worry about and which has plagued us in the past,” Srivastava said.
That’s why current industry groups’ work to recast the business is so important, he added, while at GroupM they work at narrowing down choices to bring standards to the industry. “Hopefully that will bring order to the chaos which has been unleashed at the moment.”
One positive, however, that Pearlson raised is that many of the new unified ID solutions such as The Trade Desk’s are interoperable with others, allowing marketers to align with several rather than choosing one.
Publishers and contextual data
Although there is now a plethora of new user ID solutions which may be whittled down to a few standardised ones, the safest play in an uncertain future that all brands, agencies and publishers are discussing is returning to more contextual-based advertising.
“I think this is super interesting because it represents a big shifting back potentially to more one-on-one relationships between brands and publishers,” Hocking said. “With context playing more of a major part in people's buying strategies in the future, all publishers could end up really winning from this as they manage to translate open marketplace which pays cents on the dollar to one-to-one brand partnerships, which would be far more profitable in the long term.”
Srivastava points out the problem is still far more complex for many publishers especially for smaller publishers who could face an “end game” for ad revenue when the cookies shut off and CPMs fall. Meanwhile those brand-publisher partnerships, he points out, may work when few in number, but not at scale. He predicts publishers would need to form large alliances with single sign-ons and combine their data in clean rooms which is hard to do but might be necessary for survival.
“That's the only way scale can be achieved. Because otherwise imagine a brand dealing with thousands of small publishers and trying to do this. It is not going to happen.”
However, GroupM is bullish on contextual targeting as a new means of personalisation, driven by AI with more sophistication to shift the focus from who is consuming content to what content is being consumed under what mindset. Srivastava pointed out you can easily clean these signals in contextual and personalise your message accordingly. So things like keywords, time, location, the environment, time of day, will shape targeting.
“Basically brands have to be far smarter to analyse those conditions around consumption of content,” he said, pointing to help from AI at scale to analyse text, imagery, all metadata and geolocation. “From this you can figure out enough to ensure that the ad which you're placing is relevant, timely, and fulfilling.”
While the ability to do much of this is new, Porter pointed out that much of what is described as contextual targeting often boils down to good old-fashioned media planning in the days before cookies.
Back to the future indeed.