Currently, the industry lacks a consensus alternative to the third-party cookie. Google has said that it will work with industry representatives to develop an alternative to the third-party cookie before its browser changes take effect in two years. Meanwhile, companies like LiveRamp and BritePool have developed their own identifiers. And more players likely to enter the fold. The explosion in identifiers will create complications as ad buyers and sellers must reconcile different identifiers that may serve different means or ends. “The real work is these IDs are going to need to be based on first-party identities like email addresses or phone numbers,” said an ad tech executive.
Of course, the use of email addresses or phone numbers to underpin the online advertising’s identity layer is much easier said than done. Not only will companies need to be able to collect people’s email address or phone numbers but they will have to receive their consent to have that information used for advertising purposes.
An easier alternative would be for the cessation of audience-based advertising altogether. That’s unlikely to happen, but the industry’s identity crisis has renewed interest in contextual, or content-based, advertising. “A lot of publishers are thinking about how do we get back to context, and it’s almost like everything old is new again,” said Condé Nast’s head of ad operations and monetization, Rachael Savage, who did not attend the IAB’s event.
Without a consensus replacement for the third-party cookie, all options are on the table, including a return to content service as the primary proxy by which to target audiences. In a town hall session during the IAB’s event, attendees on both the buy and sell sides of the advertising market said that the pendulum has swung too far from content-based advertising to audience-based advertising.
“Contextual [advertising] definitely is being presented as the life boat,” said Andrew Casale, CEO of supply-side platform provider Index Exchange, who described contextual advertising as “an alternative, potentially inferior lifeboat.”