Recent years haven’t been easy for digital marketers. To navigate both threatened third-party cookie changes and new data privacy regulations, concerned marketers have been increasing their spend within social media platforms and other ‘walled gardens’. This shift is due to their perception these environments will continue to offer them real-time, optimised audience targeting at scale.
The problem is that many marketers have exactly the same idea, leading to increasing auction density and rising costs. For the first time, US social media ad spend is projected to pass the $50bn revenue mark in 2021. This comes even despite Apple’s lucrative decision to launch its latest App Tracking Transparency feature in April, estimated to have cost rival platforms $10bn in ad revenue.
Aside from increased pricing, marketers must also rely on each of the walled gardens’ different data targeting and measurement methodologies, making it difficult to apply and analyse insights across all channels. With this diminished opportunity to optimise and learn from their campaigns, many marketers are looking on in desperation to the future ahead.
The balance is off
While advertising through walled gardens has been a popular option for many years, it’s an open secret that many marketers have mixed feelings about them.
The big issue is that the balance is off. There is a disparity between where people spend their time online and where advertisers focus their money. At present, the open internet – outside walled gardens – accounts for 66% of the time spent online, but it only attracts 40% of ad spend.
Moreover, the lack of ability to easily control delivery across each walled garden often leads to over-exposure, which not only wastes spend, but more importantly annoys the very prospects that marketers are trying to engage. That’s the result when marketers get nothing back in the way of usable data from their media investments, they struggle to get the effectiveness programmatic advertising can deliver.
Media owners, too, are increasingly frustrated by how internet gatekeepers are using their B2C consumer software to self-preference their B2B advertising solutions, to unfairly secure even greater market share. The same grumblings publishers have about bundling Google’s search rankings with their Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are likely to follow the launch of Apple’s News+ app and Google’s News Showcase.
Clearly a better balance is needed – an approach that gives everyone more choice, rather than just centralising more control in hands of even fewer players.
From scarcity to freedom of choice
While marketers should still use walled gardens as part of their media mix, engaging prospects across the open internet is also essential – especially when you consider that 73% of online shopping takes place on the open internet.
This is where first-party data partnerships come in. Marketers and media owners must come together to enrich their view of their own customers (with appropriate permission) and build campaigns based on incremental outcomes. Campaigns based on these foundations can run seamlessly across the open internet and walled gardens, finding the right audience without compromise.
The open internet also offers a level playing field between marketers and media owners. The automated, real-time feedback that generates positive outcomes inside walled gardens can more freely move budgets to where the best outcomes are generated across the open internet. Against the tide of competition within the walled gardens, those willing to fund independent publishers will enjoy a relative cornucopia of opportunities to engage and captivate audiences.
Marketers pursuing these data partnerships are not on their own. The industry is moving full throttle to find new developments within the open-source community. One such example is Prebid’s addressable media identifier project. This project aims not only to help reduce the annoying pop-ups people are increasingly seeing, but also to provide enhanced transparency, auditability and accountability associated with accessing ad-funded digital experiences.
Larger media owners are also asking people to supply their email or phone number during registration. With appropriate de-identification, this safely replaces the interoperable data internet gatekeepers are reserving for their own solutions. By relying on opt-in consent to the use of this information, marketers can offer enhanced richer experiences for consumers, resulting not only in improved engagement but higher holistic audience strategies with even greater measurable commerce outcomes.
Advertising on the open internet is not only beneficial for marketers and media owners, but also end consumers. The greater the funding available to niche publishers, the more choice people have to benefit from the wealth of information and innovation that the open internet provides. While allocating budgets back to this channel may be motivated by cost savings on behalf of marketers – especially in such a time as we’re seeing right now – in the long term this benefits all players.
Next year is likely to be pivotal for the future of the open internet. I for one am optimistic that regulators, media owners, marketers and consumers will have even greater choice going forward than they have today.
Joshua Koran is EVP, data and policy at Criteo.