How to leverage data partners and expand audience reach
Digital advertising professionals have had a turbulent few years. Apple’s iOS14 implementation, Google’s announcement that they would be deprecating cookies (and subsequent delays), and renewed concerns from the public and policymakers around user data privacy have all created a perfect storm that some are calling an ‘Adpocalypse’. If that weren’t bad enough, potential solutions to these issues haven't always shown to be feasible for campaign efficiency and/or user privacy.
About the Author
Schekina Israel is a digital marketing professional with nearly a decade of experience. She has a strong passion for using data, AdTech platforms, and AI to reach and convert audiences. She is an equity, diversity, and social justice advocate striving to improve the world we live in.
Today, Schekina is a Director of Addressable Strategy at Matterkind (previously known as Cadreon). Matterkind was previously part of IPG Mediabrands, but they now sit as part of the IPG’s suite of tech companies (Kinesso, Acxiom, and Matterkind).
They are a committed and uniquely resourced partner, leading the world away from billions of opaque impressions to the right number of conscious connections.
Facebook vs. Apple
Meta’s Facebook has made a few announcements in past months that audiences would be shrinking or removed as a result of Apple’s iOS14 implementation. The software update made it mandatory for users to express consent or decline being tracked by apps. This is known as ATT or App Tracking Transparency. There have been reports that ATT opt-in rates for Meta have been hovering around approximately 40%.
In addition, Facebook makes use of Apple’s IDFA (‘Identifier for Advertisers’ or a random device identifier for users) to track users and deliver personalized ad experiences to users. However, in part due to low ATT opt-in, IDFA is no longer a feasible way to track users. This is great for consumers who are looking for more control over their data and more privacy and it also helps to prevent ad fraud. However, for advertisers, this means that tracking users will become much more difficult.
From an attribution standpoint, it can cause issues as well. Not only did Facebook shorten its available attribution windows as a result, but this also makes the platform lean heavily on last-click attribution, which often doesn’t capture all campaign-driven conversions.
Facebook’s response? Introduce a more robust way to track users in lieu of only using pixel-based activity; CAPI or Conversions API. CAPI is a server-to-server integration that allows Facebook’s servers to connect with advertisers’ servers to more easily (and privately) match off-site user activity with on-site user profiles. Facebook posts that it’s best for advertisers to have both pixels and CAPI installed for more accurate ads measurement and reporting. Facebook also introduced a deduplication mechanism to ensure actions and conversions weren’t counted twice per user. However, it seems that Facebook’s push for advertisers to have both solutions implemented may have been a tactic to get early advertiser adoption as it has been announced that Facebook would depreciate its pixel mechanism in 2022.
That said, CAPI may not be as all-encompassing as it seems. There have been reports of several issues caused by CAPI and solutions put forward require more technical know-how that an average marketer often doesn’t have.
Issues with tracking, measurement, and performance advertisers to pull ad dollars away from Facebook and into differing, more measurable channels.
Google’s FLoC Flop
Things aren’t all that smooth sailing for Google. In early 2020, Google announced that they would be deprecating 3rd party cookies. In addition, Google announced that they would not introduce "alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will [they] use them in our products." Instead, they planned to work with the wider industry via their privacy sandbox to “build innovations that protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.”
In lieu of cookies, Google developed and tested a new solution - FLoC or ‘Federated Learning of Cohorts’. Unlike cookies, FLoC was (past tense because spoiler, FLoC has Flopped) intended to track groups of users based on similar browsing patterns as opposed to tracking individual users. This would result in anonymized cohorts and keep individual users' information and browsing histories anonymous (avoiding the controversial and arguably invasive practice of digital fingerprinting) while simultaneously providing tracking parameters for advertisers to leverage against campaigns.
In early trials, FLoC audiences resembled existing affinity and in-market audiences. In addition, early findings pointed to the possibility that view-through attribution would no longer be possible given the limiting mechanism of FLoC. Instead, Google planned to use conversion modeling to allow users to see view-through approximates against their ads and campaigns. Given that FLoC is Google’s mechanism and depends on (chrome) browser data, other browsers would have to buy into the mechanism - many other browsers have expressed disinterest in participating, further limiting the mechanism’s efficiency.
Unfortunately, FLoC was poorly received and was eventually disbanded. This in large part is due to the fact that FLoC could be used nefariously by ad platforms using the floc_id’s to discriminate against or act predatorily against users. In addition, floc_id’s could still be a means to fingerprint users - it essentially failed its key value proposition; keeping user data anonymous.
In place of FLoC, Google has introduced Topics API. According to Google, “With Topics, your browser determines a handful of topics, like “Fitness” or “Travel & Transportation,” that represent your top interests for that week based on your browsing history. Topics are kept for only three weeks and old topics are deleted.” Topics will also exclude sensitive categories like gender and race by default.
From a consumer perspective, this is perhaps a sound strategy that will enable greater privacy and data control. However, topics could introduce many challenges for advertisers. For example, if topics are too broad, advertisers may be targeting users they hadn’t intended to; if a car dealership wants to target users interested in cars, using the Auto & Vehicle topic could have them inadvertently target people interested in bus routes or plane tickets.
Further, because users are only assigned 3 topics (over 3 weeks), using topics could limit the relevancy or personalization of targeting given that 3 topics are quite restrictive. For reference, the IAB’s taxonomy contains over 1500 topics or categories whereas Google’s currently contains a measly 350 (though there may be plans to expand on these following the initial launch). Lastly, the 3-week span of data could limit the effectiveness of campaigns intended to convert users to book or purchase larger ticket items or services that tend to have a sales cycle or customer journey that exceeds 3 weeks.
In addition, it isn’t clear if site owners will be able to change their categorization or if Google’s algorithm will indiscriminately assign topics to sites. Sites also have to agree to participate in the Topics API program. Lastly, this mechanism does not prevent sites (especially ones that use SSO or single sign on) from banding together to collect topics on users or creating cross-data partnerships to build user profiles using topics collected over time.
Google had plans to fully phase out cookies in early 2023 but recommended that advertisers start preparing in late 2022. Google has delayed cookie deprecation at least once before. As of July 2022, Google has announced that cookie deprecation would be delayed until 2024 at the earliest. Ever shifting timelines are a challenge for brands and advertisers and thus far, some experts aren’t convinced that Topics API is a solution that balances consumers’ need for privacy and ethical data usage and campaign performance and efficiency.
What Does the Future Hold?
Evidently, walled gardens like Google and Facebook may not have all the answers to deliver pre-cookie performance in post-cookie environments.
In addition, the use of ad-blocking browsers and VPNs is on the rise making the waters murkier than ever.
During this uncertain time, what can brands and advertisers do as we prepare to face cookie-gate/Admageddon? Follow along in this multipart series for some answers, competing options, and a general consensus on the state of the post-cookie world of advertising.