Welcome to the Brave New World of Data

Media agencies and advertisers have grown used to doing targeted advertising based on huge amounts of data. This is all changing now. For agencies, technology-imposed restrictions and stricter data-protection legislation heralds a return to classic media buying virtues.

That data is one of the key drivers in the digital advertising market is hardly any secret. That has been the case since the introduction of programmatic ad sales, where ads are automatically traded in real time. Data has driven growth; and technologies, media agencies and advertisers have become accustomed to being able to target their advertising, build profiles of users across the web, and report on huge amounts of data. Those times are a’changing.

Significantly stricter personal data legislation and technical restrictions in browsers mean that size and quality of data on the market is dropping rapidly.

Things are not going to happen, they are already happening! By now, it is practically impossible to target campaigns to a large part of the users. This is largely due to Apple's 'war' on cross-site tracking. In Denmark this is a rather significant issue, because more than half of the Danish online traffic takes place in Apple's Safari browser, which blocks the use of third-party cookies and other techniques used for the targeting and measuring of advertising.

Other browsers are following in Apple's footsteps. Mozilla (Firefox), Microsoft (Edge) and Samsung (mobile browser) have also introduced measures that limit the ability to track users and target ads. Combined, this amounts to 70 % of the online traffic, so we have, in fact, entered a new reality where 3rd party targeting at scale has become virtually impossible.

Some may think that Apple will realize that they are hurting the media & advertising industry and will roll back their restrictions. Forget about that! You just need to read a few lines from their Tracking Prevention Policy to understand that they mean business:

“As a matter of policy, cross-site tracking should be prevented by default by web browsers. These practices are harmful to users because they infringe on a user's privacy without giving users the ability to identify, understand, consent to, or control them.”

Such actions endanger the business models of ad-funded media, but Apple simply sees that as an unintended consequence. In other words: Apple does not care about the business models of media, media agencies and advertisers if these are based on cross-site tracking and targeting.

For Apple, the main focus is on the privacy and data protection of their users, and this approach is largely in line with the political ideas that have led to a significantly stricter data legislation in the form of GDPR. So, as an industry, we must forget about the good old days, when there were no limits for tracking, profiling and audience building across sites.

The illusion of unified IDs

Can't we all just create a universal cross-media ID, that covers the industry - and the entire digital ecosystem?

In theory, the idea is intriguing since it will allow for the continued tracking of users and the ability to build audiences across sites.

However, the reasoning behind Universal IDs or 'Unified IDs' creates more problems than it solves. Apple (and other browsers) have made their positions abundantly clear: They want to prevent cross-site tracking by all means. Whenever we as an industry find a loophole or make a hack in the attempt to bypass Apple & Co., we accelerate an arms race that we, as an industry, can only lose.

The more hacks and loopholes, the harder browsers will respond. So, the more the industry tries to get around ITP, the tougher Apple's response will become. If we actively circumvent their rules, we just limit our own future playing field.

Classic virtues and closer collaboration

Does this mean the end of audience buying? And will that also be the case for media agencies and advertisers who have based their business models on audience buying?

The short answer is No! However, audience buying will fundamentally change. The idea of profiling users and targeting those users across media and social channels must be reassessed. There’s no way around it. 3rd party data will continue to lose volume, precision and quality.

What is left then? The answer is, 1st party publisher and advertiser data and context. Our job as publishers is to put this data into play so advertisers can reach the audiences they want. As publishers our main strength is our relationship with the users. We know what they are interested in and they visit our sites often and spend lots of time with us.

In many ways, this new data reality heralds a return to the classic virtues. Media planning will be crucial in order to make ad campaigns work in a world of walled gardens, publishers with 1st party data and various contextual advertising setups.

In a world without 3rd party tracking, there will be an increased need for specialized knowledge and insights on how to target users and where to target them. The role of media agencies will then become even more important. As the world becomes more complex, advertisers become more dependent on competent and specialized advice from their agencies.

As publishers, we want to work closely with agencies to develop solutions and products for this new data reality. We need to make it as easy as possible for agencies to find the right audiences and execute campaigns. And we must all be prepared to develop and adapt to the world in which we do business.

At Ekstra Bladet and JP/Politikens Hus, we have tried to solve some of the challenges with the launch of a new 1st party data platform, we call it Relevance. But we are far from done - and we need the participation of all other players in our industry.

Together, our mission is to find new models so advertisers can reach their audiences while respecting users' privacy. If we succeed, the outcome will create (more) value for advertisers, publishers and agencies.