‘We need an ad exchange for identity’: Overheard at the Digiday Programmatic Marketing Summit

This article is part of a series covering our Programmatic Marketing Summit. More from the series →

Programmatic marketing is seemingly as complicated an endeavor as ever. 

The third-party cookie is going away (eventually, probably), but cookieless identifiers remain somewhat half-baked. First-party data has become increasingly important, but privacy concerns and privacy regulations have also increased. Personalization is a priority for many advertisers, but it comes with added costs. Ad tech firms are becoming much more capable, but this is making the programmatic supply chain a bit more complicated.

These were among the top topics discussed by brand and agency executives during a pair of closed-door sessions at the Digiday Programmatic Marketing Summit, which kicked off on May 22 in Palm Springs, California. The conversations were held under the Chatham House Rule, so Digiday could share was said while maintaining the executives’ anonymity. Here is a sampling of the conversations.

Identity crisis

“I need one scalable, proven method that’s not Google. I need it 100% scalable, ubiquitous.”

“When you’re working with different DSPs, can they work with this [cookieless identifer]? There’s this ‘yes and no’ and then ‘I can work with this, but I can’t work with that.’ So you’ve got to find a workaround, and the workaround is this pain in the ass.”

“We work a lot with LiveRamp. It’s a big headache in terms of standardizing how we’re pushing our data and getting it back. There’s always a lot of friction in terms of match rate, how many cookies we’re putting in and getting back.”

“All these different solutions and — some of them could work — but because there’s so many competing interests right now, one or two of them could work but they’re trying to do the same thing or competing so we have to test them and they don’t go anywhere.”

“They’re just too new.”

“To use an analogy, who here has been to The Cheesecake Factory? Who here hasn’t been able to decide what to order? That’s the problem.”

“It has to be ubiquitous. Everybody has to adopt the same thing and then everybody’s testing off of this menu and you get like a little piece here and you get a little piece there. And then competing interests means that someone might try to close off. So if I’m integrated with this supply, I’m baked into that specific site list. It needs to be something where it’s very clear that the data companies and the supply side are on the same page. … It’s not fully scalable to the place where it can actually replace anything.”

“Advertisers are now really protective of their first-party data. So if they’ve already chosen a place that they’re gonna house their data, they’re real picky about letting it flow somewhere else. … It’s difficult to find the right place. And LiveRamp has a really nice place in the industry to begin with because they were already … trusted.”

“I think that we tend to actually want a monolithic solution and yet we’re terrified of a monolithic solution. And I think that that is something that’s really getting in the way of it because we say, ‘OK, well is it LiveRamp? Is it The Trade Desk? Is it UID 2.0? Is it whatever Google’s trying to do with grouping people together?’ The problem is that we would all prefer to choose one so that we don’t have interoperability issues.”

“Being able to take what Fortune 500s have already figured out, they all have their own platforms, they’re not waiting for a unified solution. They’ve already built it; it exists on their servers. We’re hoping for a solution cuz our brands may or may not have that budget depending on who they are. … So we’re kind of sitting in the middle like what’s next?”

“No one can actually control [the programmatic advertising supply chain] to create this new ubiquitous experience. It’s likely gonna become an intermediary that we have to work with between multiple data platforms. It’ll complicate all of our work. My question would be: What clients will pay for it?”

“I mean there’s definitely urgency [to move away from the third-party cookie]. I just think that Google is stretching it out and there’s not a lot of trust that they’re actually gonna complete the migration this year.” 

“I’ve been laughing a lot. Every time we hear something it’s definite. And now not so much.”

Ad tech turf war

“O.G. ad networks introduced ad exchanges to unite them all. We need an ad exchange for identity, that’s a neutral third party. The problem with The Trade Desk is they’re not neutral. They represent the demand side, and who actually holds most of the first-party [data] keys? The publishers.”

“In [The Trade Desk’s] defense, they tried to stay neutral. But then other people, like Google, owns part of the supply. Whenever you try to trade value, like you’re trying to make a JVP with The Trade Desk, they don’t have as many tokens to trade with.”

“Everything’s too divided again. Who has the relationships The Trade Desk has? Yahoo’s probably divesting their supply but also probably doing the same thing. What do you go to Magnite for? Magnite calls me and say, ‘We’re the CTV shop.’ But The Trade Desk has already kind of established that.”

“They’re all [claiming they’re] the CTV shops.”

“Everything’s creating more complexity as a way to get closer to supply.”

“How can we work with both the SSPs and DSPs to get what we want? I think part of it starts with figuring out what that want actually is.”

Regulation realism

“I think everyone in this room is OK with regulation. The problem is that we don’t have the right parties in the room for the regulation side.”

“It’s almost like there just needs to be a better consortium of the conversation as to what needs to be decided what becomes regulation.”

“There has to be some standardization.”

“There’s all these breakouts within IAB to different groups, but there needs to be a newer wave that goes up to the Fed. You watch those [congressional hearings], and you see the questions they’re asking, and it’s like, ‘Ah crap.’”

“All of the conversations that we’re hearing, it’s because the consumer has lost trust. Not just in terms of where their data is going or how it’s being used. But it’s also how it’s being collected.”

“If we’re going to develop regulation, it’s tough because it’s coordinating the sell side, the data teams, the buy side. It’s a lot of monkeys in that circus to get everybody in the same direction.”

Personalization predicament

“The trend we’re seeing is the larger brands are ready to go with personalization, as opposed to the medium and small brands that it’s more dragging them across the finish line.”

“Our CPG client is actually pushing personalization. We are going from these bigger strategic audiences to, ‘I want to know the ones that are interested in sports, in traveling, and they’re each going to get a different ad that’s more tailored to their interest.’ So our clients are pushing that personalization, but we’re also testing, ‘Is that actually necessary? Do we really need to dig into these people’s data like that? Do we need to also pay more for it because it’s doubled our CPMs?’”

“Content is personalized. Period. We just happen to be advertising. Like, people expect personalization. There’s not a publisher I know that’s any decent size that doesn’t personalize the shit out of your landing experience. There’s not a retailer I know that doesn’t personalize the shit out of your landing experience.”

“I work on the upper funnel a lot, and I’m like, ‘Why are we personalizing this much?’”

“I would argue, if you don’t personalize, you could also run the risk of pushing people away.”

“Not to break it down to the most obvious thing, but it’s how much money you have to put into personalization. Is it even worth it for a campaign?”

The consumer quandary

“What if we consider the consumer instead of trying to solve the data needs on the backend? [What if] we basically just say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to pay you for your information.’”

[Where’s that money coming from?]

“In my mind, it would be whoever is housing the ads, so the publishers.”

“In order to make a reward very meaningful, it has to be a big number. But when we talk about [the prices advertisers pay per ad], it’s not going to be convincing enough for someone to share that data to the advertisers.”

“Is the new normal you go to a website and you’ve got to give an email address to even view the content? And it’s like, ‘Oh, you didn’t want to opt in to our CDP? Well, then you don’t get to see anything.’ Is that the replacement we all have to go to and brands want to go to because they’re not willing to survive without data?”

“If you look at England, you basically can’t see content until you opt in. So it’s just as bad, in my opinion. At the end of the day, users are either being forced into something. So I think there’s a happier middle ground where users can control what they want to see and brands have to adapt.”

“Nothing is user-focused at all, actually. Like in the U.K., it’s like, ‘OK, accept,’ and now I can read what I was going to read.”

“There needs to be a conversation with consumers where we don’t talk down to them. It’s kind of like what they did on Twitch where streamers have to choose if they wanted to have sponsored ads. It’s like, if you want this content, this is how you support it. I feel like we need to educate the general public.”

“People have just gotten so used to getting everything for free. As a consumer, I get so angry when I really want to read this article and there’s a paywall. I’m totally willing, in that instance, just to get to that place of, ‘Yes, I’m going to log in, you’re going to know everything about me, and then I can find that article.’ It is about educating people the value exchange that the internet has been free and, if something is free, then you’re the product.”

“I got a cool paywall the other day. I was reading a local newspaper and hit the point where you’ve got to log in. But then it said, ‘You can sign in or you could answer questions.’ It was some sort of study. I’m like, ‘Wait, that’s cool.’ And then I got to read the article after that. So they got what they needed, and I got to read the content without having to do the login process, and it was a smooth experience.”

“Part of the problem with all this is that we try to sell this story of, ‘We want you to have this experience and this value exchange, but I think to the average person — while we think they don’t think it’s bullshit — sorry, they do.”

“I work in pharma. We want to manage frequency, the cadence of messages, the sequence. We want to make sure we’re not pressing too much or too hard. You don’t want to remind somebody that they have cancer 17 times. However, it is important that you get in front of the person with something that can actually help them, but not to the point where it’s upsetting.”

“We have to take ourselves out of the advertising mindset for a moment and into the mindset of the person consuming the data. In a lot of the programmatic conversation, it’s more about appeasing the client.”


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