How publishers are rebuilding identity to control their own destiny

time for change

Scott Howe, CEO, LiveRamp

For many years, digital advertising has relied on the third-party cookie to power the value exchange of the internet — free or reduced-cost content in exchange for advertisements. Unfortunately, the third-party cookie lacked transparency, and the value exchange was not explicit to the consumer. As an industry, marketers, publishers and their technology partners too often failed to put the consumer first and, in turn, there has been a massive increase in regulation, browser and device changes over the past few years. All three stakeholders are now building a new ecosystem — one rooted in consumer trust and first-party identity.

As the industry sifts through a growing catalog of alternative identifiers that rely on publishers’ first-party data to succeed, many publishers feel not only inundated but hesitant to give up their data ー and rightfully so. For too long, publishers have been commoditized as a source of inventory and data for the ecosystem. In reality, the ecosystem should exist to serve publishers and their marketer partners. Content providers have borne the brunt of the changes made to the advertising business for decades.

The exit of third-party cookies and other flawed identifiers is the rallying cry for publishers to take control of their destiny. As they vet the identity solutions and technology partners that can help them achieve this, only those giving publishers complete control over their data while protecting consumer privacy are worth the attention.

Cracking the identity code will take multiple tools

The fact is, there is no silver bullet for publisher monetization in the post-cookie world. 

Contextual works across all browsers but has limitations around its effectiveness and ability to measure. It’s a tired method that results in limited CPMs on Safari/Firefox today. Browser-based cohorts, such as FLOC, only work on an individual browser, and they’re still in the early stages — so much is unknown. Importantly, it’s known that they’ll be controlled by a browser, not by the publisher. Fingerprinting is being presented as a solution with scale but uses nefarious techniques and has been condemned by the browser and privacy community. There’s no value in relying on an identifier that results in the same or worse privacy concerns as the third-party cookie.

Importantly, publishers must also consider the walled gardens as marketers look not only at the open internet but also anywhere consumers spend their time. The walled gardens don’t rely on contextual data and have incredible authentication rates. They’ve shown time and time again that marketer dollars follow people-based addressability. 

This is why publishers must put people-based addressability at the top of the list. Authenticated users are the people with whom a publisher has a trusted relationship — this is the gold standard for publishers and at parity with the walled gardens’ offerings.  Enabling people-based inventory not only improves monetization and keeps publishers in control of their data but is the mechanism publishers can brandish to help marketers maximize reach and return on ad spend. In fact, even at low levels of authentication — 10%–30% — the impact can be disproportionately valuable to a publisher’s bottom line.  

Microsoft Advertising is among the stakeholders that have seen this value firsthand, increasing CPMs on authenticated impressions by over 40% in initial tests when using LiveRamp’s Authenticated Traffic Solution (ATS). 

“TV viewers are now well-integrated into streaming environments, which are fragmented across a wide variety of device platforms for advertisers,” said Mark Rotblat, Chief Revenue Officer at Tubi. “This makes the marketer’s challenge of reaching and measuring a target audience multi-dimensional, and having a people-based identifier is important to ensure that advertising campaigns are relevant across channels and devices. LiveRamp helps enable authenticated, first-party relationships with our viewers so we can continue to deliver impactful experiences, at scale.”

Adding Apple, IDFA, and ATT to the party

Another prevalent challenge publishers face is the introduction of Apple’s app tracking transparency (ATT) framework, which requires app developers to ask users for permission to track and share their Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) — Apple’s mobile ID. It’s now a necessary step for precise mobile in-app advertising and measurement. As iOS 14.5 continues to roll out, publishers will need to secure ATT consent to continue connecting their inventory to marketer data. 

As a result, mobile publishers must optimize their ATT consent rates and explain the value exchange to the consumer. Otherwise, they’ll likely see a drop in advertiser interest and revenue. The good news is that publishers will benefit from even low levels of authentication. 

In all cases, once ATT consent is given, mobile app developers still need a neutral and transparent infrastructure that will enable them to maintain and scale their business while upholding consumer privacy standards. For many, authenticated identity is this foundation. It enables all ecosystem stakeholders to use the same identity across display, mobile in-app and CTV, and, for publishers, to create addressability at scale while maintaining a one-to-one relationship with consumers. 

Putting power back in the right hands

Once publishers have authentication —  and, if applicable, ATT consent — it’s important that they own and control the new relationship with the consumer. For far too long, publishers have ceded control of identity and their first-party relationships to the browsers or other platforms that have profited and built segments using publisher data collected via the third-party cookie. The industry wants that to change, and here is how publishers, large, medium and small, can control their own destiny. 

The first is to control identity and data. The skepticism from publishers is valid. Publishers are seeking a sustainable, foolproof way to share their data with advertisers without the fear of it spilling over into the rest of the ecosystem. People-based, encrypted and encoded identifiers can be made fully responsive to publisher controls, allowing for secure transmission only to intended platforms. If a publisher only wants to use their identity for direct deals, that’s OK. If a publisher wants to use their identity for private marketplace deals, that’s OK too. If publishers want to use their identity for open exchange, that’s also all right. It’s up to the publisher — they’re in the driver’s seat. Publishers, marketers and their technology partners must still make responsible data governance decisions, but authenticated solutions give those decisions teeth and keep the control with the publisher.

The second step is to choose a better solution than third-party cookies — i.e., an authenticated solution that is neutral, omnichannel, offers global capabilities and ensures control. If the solution the team is vetting meets these criteria, then it is on the right path to effectively maintain the addressability enterprises need with the privacy and security features consumers deserve. And as a result, publishers make more money, marketers generate higher returns and consumers gain greater control and transparency over their data.

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