Adobe’s data co-op points to a cataclysmic struggle with Google, and the wider ad tech ecosystem

Software giant Adobe and digital media powerhouse Google are increasingly encroaching upon each other’s traditional patch, in a confrontation that harbingers some of the key debates in the industry, i.e. the debate around open versus closed ecosystems, plus the collision of ad tech and martech.

Last week saw Adobe throw its hat into the ring as the industry’s leading ad tech, and martech outfits attempt to help brands crack the cross-screen conundrum, with a positioning that pits it squarely against Google, in what is one of the debates of the digital industry’s evolution.

The Adobe Marketing Cloud Device Co-op was launched with similar rhetoric Facebook’s Atlas (albeit with key distinctions in the actual offering), promising marketers using the network that will let them to “work together to better identify consumers across digital touch points”.

Participating brands will be able to utilise the touch points to recognise their consumers across a network of over a billion devices, a scale comparable with that of the digital media industry’s two-largest players Facebook and Google.

Adobe proposes that participants give it access to anonymised user login IDs, plus other data points (which fully hides a consumer’s identity). It then processes this data to create groups of devices, or device clusters, and then makes these groups available through its digital marketing cloud services. This then means that co-op members can measure, segment, target and advertise directly to individuals across all of their devices, according to Adobe.

This move is significant on two fronts. Firstly, as mentioned above, the move pits Adobe squarely at odds against the two goliaths of the online media space, as the federated methodology of brands sharing first party data to target, deliver and measure their ad campaigns differs entirely from the ‘walled garden’ methods espoused by the aforementioned pairing.

In fact, this method has a lot more in common with the methods espoused by ad tech companies involved in the recently revived DigiTrust (which is effectively led by Rubicon Project VP Jordan Mitchell), as well as the ethos espoused by publisher co-ops such as La Place Media in France, or the AOP-led Symmachia.

Although the industry has a plethora of third party data players offering brands the ability to target audiences across screens using a probabilistic approach, Adobe’s pitch to the market is that it can combine the accuracy of ‘walled garden players’, without the associated limitations, such as siloed media plans. Although, for their part, Facebook and Google maintain they are protecting their users’ privacy.

In addition, advocates of the more collaborative method of conducting cross-screen campaigns point out that any moves to dilute Facebook and Google’s reliance on the two-biggest digital media owners in the business is to be welcomed (both Facebook and Google accounted for over half of all digital ad spend last year, according to eMarketer numbers).

Another key point that Adobe is keen to raise is that it won’t use its data co-op as a vehicle to sell more media (many adtech and martech companies are keen to highlight that they make money using a software-as-a-service, or SaaS, model). Meanwhile, Google and Facebook’s detractors often keen to highlight how the bulk of their revenue from media sales, a model which many claim is conflicted.

Quite how likely Adobe is to knock the biggest two players in the digital media sector remains to be seen, but what’s unquestionable is that there is a groundswell of opposition to their methods, with those on the buy-side of the industry bringing increasing amount of pressure on them to provide further levels of transparency to their media buys.

Likewise, marketers under pressure from their CFOs will be eager to welcome tools that can help them more easily harmonise their media buyers, and reducing instances of clumsy retargeted media buying (a pet hate of the wider public), surely one of these factors has to give.

Ronan Shields is digital editor at The Drum

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