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The future of identity for publishers, in their own words

This new era will be grounded in first-party data, which consumers entrust to publishers and brands

A new future of personalized advertising is on the cusp of dramatically changing our industry as we know it. The demise of third-party cookies, IDFA restrictions and other recent changes are becoming increasingly concerning for many publishers, but are they prepared for this?

Many publishers do have preparations well underway to adopting stable and long-lasting alternatives, which will redefine the image of the internet as a safe medium for consumers. As our industry evolves, so are the strategies for alternative targeting solutions around first-party data, contextual tools and the value of other non-PII data signals.

Criteo partners closely with many of the top media executives from around the world as they look to navigate these tumultuous waters and protect not only their business but also the trust and commitments they have made to their consumers. What you will read below are first-hand accounts of how publishers have started to position themselves through test and learn approaches, as well as the different ways publishers ensure they retain as much value as possible from the data they create through their relationships with consumers, advertisers and identity providers. Now, more than ever, publishers have the power and control to lead the narrative on identity, consumer relationships and collaboration in the industry.

To discuss some of these trends and more, we caught up with the following leading publishers to learn about their future of identity and the optimism they share going into 2021 and beyond:

  • Carsten Sander, executive director of monetization technology solutions, BurdaForward (Germany)

  • Faisal Karmali, senior global director of business operations, CNN International (United Kingdom)

  • Paulina Zyśk-Lisica, director of the programmatic department, Grupa Wirtualna Polska (Poland)

  • Clemens Timmermans, Benelux head of advertising, Marktplaats (Netherlands) and 2dehands/2ememain (Belgium)

  • Alex Simpson, head of programmatic solutions, The Ozone Project (United Kingdom)

  • Jochen Schneeberger, head of digital advertising, Willhaben (Austria)

The evolving landscape

The move away from third-party cookies is an opportunity for quality publishers, given the sheer value of their audiences that interact with premium publisher content. Publishers in some ways will still need to evolve and adapt, but for many, that’s not so daunting a task. With the change, often comes opportunity; in this case, the opportunity for a safer internet, a better user experience, more collaboration, and ultimately a sustainable and value-driven future in adtech.

Alex Simpson of The Ozone Project says: “Third-party cookies have their shortcomings so their demise is not such a bad thing. What these identifiers delivered can ultimately be addressed in other ways.

“We shouldn’t just try and recreate what we already have. We have a chance to redesign a system that addresses the persistent issues of the current one: lack of transparency, unclear and confusing uses of personal data with lots of GDPR notices, and an over-reliance on adtech metrics rather than business measures for success.“

Paulina Zyśk-Lisica of GWP adds: “The advantage of moving away from third-party cookies is building the image of the internet as a safe medium. As a publisher, we put the welfare of our users first. We conduct extensive editorial activities to combat the distribution of fake news. Creating a space in which the user feels safe while browsing any e-commerce website, and which does not attack them with advertising messages, is an important aspect of building users’ safety.”

Carsten Sander of BurdaForward continues: “Of course, nobody knows what exactly will happen. But I think, the main characteristic of our business is reinvention and it happens nearly every year. I believe that we didn’t hear peoples voice regarding targeting and even more so the ’feeling of being observed’ and it was more than time for new, more privacy-driven solutions.”

Clemens Timmermans of Marktplaats concludes: “This shift could prove to be an opportunity for ads to become more relevant to the actual context they are in, or based on previous interactions with that same publisher, rather than being related to something the user may have searched for somewhere else. Another advantage may be that this shift unlocks more direct conversations between advertisers, agencies and publishers, rather than having technology playing that part.”

User privacy and alternative targeting solutions

With a resurgence in alternative targeting solutions, such as contextual, many publishers may be unsure how to take advantage of this shift in the digital landscape. Some have started to redefine their relationships with the consumer through targeted partnerships and engaging products. Others are taking a wider look at the market and trying to understand which solutions are right for them. There may not be a ’right’ answer, but we all agree something needs to be done. While we consider the consumers and the new ways we will need to reach them, publishers need to be able to leverage the data they already have to bring consumers the control, choice, transparency and privacy they are demanding.

Jochen Schneeberger of Willhaben says: “Starting now, publishers can rely on their own user-generated data, which is locally effective, generates higher relevance and can be used as reinforcement for contextual targeting. From Willhaben’s perspective, it is a significant chance to focus on first-party data and to ask for the user’s consent in order to form a convenient and relevant level of advertising.”

Zyśk-Lisica adds: “We have access to a wide range of user information defined as first-party data. This information is an invaluable source of knowledge, also with regard to the openness of a given user to personal data processing. We want to use this knowledge for users’ benefit so that the advertising message is best suited to them and does not disturb them.

Faisal Karmali of CNN International says: “As a publisher, we have been using data-based and contextual targeting in tandem for some time. Especially since GDPR, contextual and semantic targeting has allowed for the continuation of audience targeting where cookies have reduced. We have built our own contextual engine on the back of that, which analyses the context of sentences across text, audio, video and galleries using neuro-linguistic AI.

Where publishers should be focusing their efforts

One thing is for sure: the future of identity within digital advertising will change and, as such, will lead to many publishers doing what they can to future-proof their business. The recent Google announcements have given the open internet a valuable opportunity to put consumers first and collaborate within adtech to enrich data.

Simpson comments: “There will be an increase in initiatives to target verified/registered users and this will become more valuable for some campaign strategies. The key thing for publishers is to ensure they retain as much value as possible from the data they create through their relationships with readers. Creating this engagement takes a lot of investment and is vital for a healthy adtech ecosystem.”

Karmali adds: “Publishers’ contribution to the data ecosystem, where known users are required, is pivotal as they are the main touchpoint with potential and current consumers. Anyone with a good solution will have more opportunity to prove that their methodology works. Having a good mix of solutions we have built ourselves – including our data tool Audience Insight Measurement, which enables several elements of targeting including contextual, semantics, behaviors etc – means that we as a publisher can show our working and prove the value of the product.”

Sander comments: “Publishers need to focus on transparency. We have tried to hide the relevance of cookies for the ad ecosystem, and we were too shy to ask users and describe what we really do. We need to see and take care of the value of our relationship with users and invite them to help optimize products. It is also important to understand our layers of context and the value of non-PII data signals. Time and engagement and also signals of intent are more relevant than ever.”

Timmermans says: “In addition to captivating audiences, publishers should also consider having or increasing users log-in to their experience. Whichever way the cookie crumbles, this is bound to be the right investment for the future, especially as privacy is destined to play a larger role in the interaction between the user and the publisher. With logged-in users as a starting point, publishers can start to offer meaningful privacy controls around identity, consent, and data-sharing options. At the same time – and probably more short-term – publishers should review whether they want to work with identity providers or not, grow their contextual options and engage with their advertisers to run tests.”

Schneeberger concludes: “Three good examples of initiatives that Willhaben supports are: one, collecting first-party data and making it available, eg via PMPs or special, additive data segments. Two, intensifying and strengthening the connection with the buyer, communicating benefits transparently, making the value of real users, who gave their consent, recognizable as an actual asset in the appropriate environment or moment. Three, strengthening the trust to work with data segments, learning how the system works and sharing your insights with the client.”

So where does this leave publishers?

Publishers are in a unique position as our industry enters a phase of customer-centric transformation. Publishers have the advantage of access to two highly valuable components: their audience and their audience’s consented data.

But having that data is just one piece of the puzzle – it's going to be critical to leverage this data in the right way. What’s becoming increasingly important is the need to be surgical in who they partner with to help leverage the full extent of that data, so personalized advertising will live on to drive value for the consumer, the advertiser and the publisher.

At Criteo, we share this vision and are embracing industry collaboration. While Google and similar organizations may stop providing one-to-one personalized advertising outside of their owned and operated properties, we believe there is a new way to create a network for permission-based advertising for the open internet. This new era will be grounded in first-party data, which consumers entrust to publishers and brands. Criteo is prepared and has been future-proofing our solutions with what we call our First-Party Media Network to connect and activate our clients’ data in privacy-safe ways.

The goal for us is simple – drive value to our partners and balance the value exchange between stakeholders through trusted first-party data management.

Though adtech may seem to be in a constant state of flux, we as an industry are equipped with the right tools to build a customer-driven future. The fate of the open internet rests in all our hands; are you ready to take advantage of the opportunity?

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