Media Data & Privacy Data

From seller-defined audiences to AI: the trends shaping publishers’ post-cookie world

By David DiAngelo | Vice-president of global marketplace development

May 8, 2023 | 8 min read

As third-party cookies go the way of the dodo, publishers are eyeing new strategies for attracting ad spend. Emodo‘s David DiAngelo outlines three key trends as part of The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Data & Privacy Playbook.


Publishers are adopting new strategies to drive revenue amid third-party cookie deprecation / Adobe Stock

The digital advertising world is always in a state of fast-paced evolution, but the last couple of years have brought especially significant change to the industry.

The change we’re seeing is happening at the most foundational level, as so many of the tactics and tools advertisers and publishers have historically relied on will simply not be available far into the future. Privacy concerns continue to grow among users and among legislatures and regulatory bodies around the world. Among the most impactful changes is the sunsetting of third-party cookies.

Publishers are facing the imperative of monetizing their inventory and audiences in a future full of uncertainty. As the first quarter of 2023 wraps up, we’re seeing some trends emerge on how publishers are rising to the occasion.

Through the remainder of this year, we can expect to see continued emphasis on three specific areas of advertising: seller-defined audiences, contextual and native advertising, and predictive audiences.

Seller-defined audiences

Launched in early 2022, the IAB Tech Lab’s Seller-Defined Audience Initiative has been presented as a method for ending dependence on third-party cookies, while also avoiding the uncertainty of embracing new alternative IDs that haven’t been proven in the marketplace yet. Seller-defined audiences (SDAs) allow publishers to use their first-party data to build out audiences of their users, organized around interest, demographics and other factors.

The challenge so far has been in convincing advertisers to sign on. Many brands and agencies want more transparency about how publishers are creating their SDAs, and they want to ensure that they can still use the data that enables them to differentiate their targeting from their competitors.

However, two key factors are shaping the trajectory of SDA adoption: Google has decided to support them in its ad systems, and we’re getting much closer to 2024 and third-party cookie deprecation.

We can expect broader adoption of SDAs in 2023, as buyers who have clung to third-party cookies for as long as possible finally accept they need to move on. We can expect publishers and their partners to address advertisers’ transparency and differentiation concerns. But addressing those concerns will be a process and publishers will need to advocate for their business needs while being responsible and reliable partners to their advertisers. The prospect of categorizing and establishing audience segments in ways that encourage advertiser spending will necessitate collaboration and innovative thinking all around.

Contextual and native advertising

This is another area where advertisers have concerns about how publishers are organizing their own assets to support targeting without third-party cookies. In this case, it’s less about ensuring differentiation in campaigns and more about ensuring standardization that in turn can ensure campaigns will scale.

Advertising without dependence on third-party cookies has to have a two-pronged approach. It’s vital that ads align with contextually relevant content and it’s vital that ads feel native to the environments where they’re served.

We’ve seen considerable adoption of contextual advertising among publishers – it’s an intuitive move, it uses technology that’s already common in the ad stack and it enables the collection of first-party data that can be used to monetize their audiences.

However, advertisers still have concerns about a lack of standardization in how publishers tag and segment their content. Without standardization, the real scalability of contextual advertising is negatively impacted. The question of how to approach standardization of content categorization will likely linger for some time, but if publishers are truly committed to the viability of contextual as a post-third-party-cookie solution, they’ll need to work with their publisher peers and advertiser partners to come up with answers in 2023.

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Predictive audiences

In light of the almost certain data loss advertisers and campaigns are going to experience this year, AI is poised to provide a powerful assist in delivering accurate insights from available, compliant datasets. The rapid advances we’ve seen in AI recently are taking predictive audiences to the next level and the industry is bound to see the adoption of predictive audiences accelerate through 2023.

With AI, marketers are no longer bound by the limitations of trying to predict future consumer behavior via data they have on their historical consumer base. Predictive audiences have always been created on the basis of at least one predictive metric – an example of such a metric would be ‘30-day purchasers,’ for consumers who might make a purchase within the next month – and AI can help build out those audiences quickly and accurately, even when available and eligible predictive metrics are limited. Now publishers can monetize anonymous, non-ID-based inventory while ensuring campaigns reach the right consumers and their audiences see relevant advertising – which improves both the user experience and publisher CPMs.

By embracing these trends, publishers can continue to generate revenue while providing the optimal user experience that keeps audiences returning to the site – and wins over new, loyal users. At this time, publishers have a rare and extremely valuable opportunity to guide how the future of digital will play out. Their insights and stories will be central in keeping the industry sustainable.

David DiAngelo is vice-president of global marketplace development at Emodo. To read more from The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, where we’ll be demystifying data & privacy for marketers in 2023, head over to our special hub.

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