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Epsilon the Trade Desk Publicis Groupe

Inside Publicis' identity partnership with The Trade Desk as digital media goes 'nuclear'


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

April 9, 2021 | 6 min read

Publicis Groupe, one of the world’s largest ad buyers, is the first holding company to support the Unified ID 2.0, an identity solution being built by The Trade Desk to pick up the reins from the soon to die third-party cookie. The Drum hears from Publicis's data arm Epsilon about the agreement struck before “nuclear war hits the digital media value chain”.


Inside Publicis' identity partnership with Trade Desk as digital media goes 'nuclear'

Data business Epilson, purchased by Publicis Groupe two years ago for a reported $4bn, made its identity platform CORE ID interoperable with The Trade Desk on Thursday. There’s a growing list of backers for this alternative to the third-party cookie. Xandr, LiveRamp, FuboTV, The Washington Post, OpenX, Neustar, Mediavine, Pubmatic, Index Exchange, Nielsen, Criteo and Spot X have thrown their weight behind it but Publicis marks the first entry from a holding company. It might also be the last.

Thibault Hennion, director of international operations at Epsilon, says: “We’ve taken a different path from the other holding companies by owning a data solution [Epsilon]. We add something to the partnership. They don't have their own data graphs [so] I don’t know what they could bring to the table.”

With tens of solutions being cooked up by an adtech industry reinventing itself, Publicis had its choice of partners. Hennion says: “The Trade Desk is the leading US DSP outside of Google. It is extremely good at building customer interfaces but its ID solution was based on emails, when on our side it was based on individuals."

Epsilon claims it can consolidate email and device IDs into a “single customer profile at individual level”. The Trade Desk, meanwhile, is “extremely good in the last mile between audience segmentation and the publisher”.

So Epsilon joins, and helps legitimize, the Unified ID 2.0 solution, by adding some 250m IDs from its Core ID programme. Through The Trade Desk, it will be able to reach them more often and in more ways. Hennion claims these IDs represent around 80% of US adults, Epsilon’s market of focus – for now. But the deal should accelerate the growth of Epsilon's ID program. And it needs to. 250m IDs, while huge, pales in comparison to Facebook's 2bn users or Google's mammoth base.

But it is a young business and third-party sources only recently fell out of favor, even though Kantar recently argued with Sir Martin Sorrell in The Drum against that very point.

Hennion says identity is generally built using search data. If someone searches for football, they probably like football. Then marketers can partner with publishers to understand that said person reads a lot about European football using contextual analysis. These behaviours are anonymously (hopefully) tied to devices, emails and logins. The extra step Epsilon takes is in tying the IDs to transactions, thanks to being embedded in the numerous e-commerce schemes of top brands. Epsilon knows that the football fan bought a jersey and a matchday ticket through one of its clients – they bought it using an email address after all.

“We’re about meaningful conversation, we’re not in the retargeting world. We are here to build brand equity and build long term relationships. This is only possible if you're doing it at the individual level.”

This flies in the face of Google’s FLoC solution, which groups people into anonymized cohorts based upon their interests, supposedly in the name of affording greater anonymity to individuals. The risk of a data leak identifying surveilled behaviors carries too high a cost in 2021 it appears. David Temkin, the director of product management, ads privacy and trust at Google, recently claimed that solutions offering “a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web” are not sustainable due to the rising tide of consumer protections in digital.

The Unified ID 2.0 is a bet that such behaviors will remain operable, compliant with coming regulation, and acceptable by a public that some in this industry argue will accept the tracking for free online experiences and relevant ads.

Whatever happens down the line, right now, a reckoning threatens the digital supply chain, according to Hennion. Advertisers, from the biggest to the smallest face being “blinded” and “suffocated”.

"If players don’t find alternatives, there will be a nuclear impact on the digital media value chain," he says.

“Third-party cookies are like the air that you breathe in. It was a natural currency for everything that happened online, everyone was using it because it was widely available.”

Hennion talks up partnerships with organizations like TTD to re-establish that oxygen supply. And then, it’s about partnering with publishers direct too, since they’ll be the gatherers of consent and the owners of the audience.

But if the third-party cookie was indeed eased out to protect consumer privacy, are these alternative solutions in the spirit of privacy? Will they survive the rising tides of regulation? One of the industry's biggest players is enthusiastically betting yes.

Sign up for The Drum’s Future of Media briefing here.

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