Ops Wrap-Up: Leave the Cookie, Take the Leap

“The death of the cookie has been greatly exaggerated,” claimed Jason Bigler, Google Ad Manager Director of Product, near the beginning of the 2019 Ops event in New York.

You could hear the sighs across the Metropolitan Pavilion, feel the collective shrug of acknowledgement pass through the gathered crowd. Yeah, he’s right. Others would echo this sentiment throughout the day, including members of the “Privacy Please” panel debating the fallout of data regulations and browser cookie crackdowns.

At a time when proclamations that the cookie has crumbled are louder than ever, Bigler’s statement was a needed reality check. But while the cookie may still be around, but it’s clinging onto life. Publishers, brands, and agencies are racing to get away from its sickly figure.

In the Programmania closing conversation, AdProfs’ Ratko Vidakovic expressed skepticism that Chrome’s privacy dodge would be its last cookie-crushing measure. At Ops, the “Privacy Please” panel was far more interested in how universal or shared IDs could soothe consumer privacy concerns. Companies like Rivr were dissecting cookie-less targeting and data management.

Vidakovic suggests there are many signs—including Google turning on first-price auctions, transparency entering programmatic through initiatives like ads.cert, consolidation of demand sources, and advertiser excitement over connected TV inventory—that we’re closing the door on one era of digital advertising and opening another.

That first door likely opened a dozen years ago, when Google acquired DoubleClick and Yahoo bought Right Media. In 2019, only GAM remains, but plenty of other entrants have crowded the space. Not as many as in the old LUMAscapes, thank goodness…

Consider brands truly bringing media buying capabilities in-house—but not the way agency trading desks once feared—while white-label buying platforms proliferate. Consider the bold new world of branded content, which now stretches from digital media to live events.

Yes, even consider the potential of blockchain to bring transparency, verification, accountability, and data control to the Wild, Wild West of digital media. Consider how all industry players are preparing for the surge of devices and lightning-fast connectivity of 5G.

It’s not clear if we’re on the precipice of tomorrow or if we’ve already made the leap.

But let’s be honest: as we push forward into a new era, we’re having trouble letting go of some remnants of the old age. Mobile ad networks assert way too much influence; fraud with bots and domain spoofing still roil buyers and sellers alike; and third-party cookies, the data-driven ad industry’s threadbare security blanket.

The 2019 Ops conference was about moving digital media and ad tech forward, but also acknowledging the undesirables we keep dragging along. Our goal, of course, was to bring the industry together to figure out how to leave those behind.

The conference was way too massive an affair to sum up in a few thousand words, so in this limbo period between Ops and Cannes, I’ve tried to put together my biggest takeaways. If you want even more, check out the #OpsNY Twitter feed—it’s quite extensive!

The Buy Side Wants Engagement

I’ve long thought integrated digital agency Giant Spoon is on the cutting edge, so I was highly intrigued when Tuesday afternoon keynote Laura Correnti, Partner and AdLandia podcast co-host, suggested the agency is leveraging tools that help them optimize to engagement.

Programmania Keynote Megan Pagliuca, CDO of agency Hearts & Science, also focused on paying much more attention to frequency and distribution to promote cost efficiency as well as better messaging. In effect, H&S’s CPvM metric appears very focused on engagement also.

Any regular AdMonsters reader knows I keep a candle lit for transacting on engaged time, though several conversations and panels have left me a bit disheartened in the last year. There was a common factor—agencies have shown little interest in engagement, content on chasing their own KPIs, which often seem to revolve around clicks or basic viewability.

Prominent buy-side folks side hopping on the engagement bandwagon is a great sign. We may never reach my promised land of transacting on time, but optimizing to engagement is a great direction.

SPO Waltz

Supply path optimization is not hype! Pagliuca detailed where Hearts & Science has been successful in SPO and pushing private marketplaces, while lamenting how the convoluted development of the programmatic space has hampered full adoption. Rubicon Project exhibit the fruit of its Prebid-based Demand Manager, and Jounce Media made a lot of eyes open real wide with its supply-path efficiency charts.

While SPO is now a widely acknowledged strategy on both buy and sell sides, I get the feeling both sides are forgoing dialog in favor of trying to game each other. It was almost stirring when Meredith Digital and Goodway Group seemed to have a real-time negotiation during PubMatic’s SPO kickoff. Let’s stop trying to play each other, guys, and have a conversation.

Battlefront: CTV

The linear vs. digital war rages on, with connected TV now the bloodiest battleground. The lack of trusted—or at least agreed-upon data and metrics—has forced a stalemate. The buyers want households, GRPs, and in-demo, the sellers are offering device-level impressions with data galore… maybe too much. GRPs and demos are ultimately pretty simple, and advertisers are demanding data as complex as the times. Only thing is, they still seem to want to buy in those charming, old-fashioned styles across the ever growing morass of CTV platforms.

Kind of crazy that this fight continues so many years after third-party video-ad serving was standardized via VAST. The cry I’ve heard from many a digital video professional—particularly those with no linear experience—is, “Shouldn’t digital win out?” Through ID-graphing, digital should be able to provide household-level data, even co-viewing and second-screen insight. But then there’s the fragmentation.

The various CTV platforms are like so many little fiefdoms holding their data tight—often because they’re running their own monetization schemes. And the fragmentation runs thicker—content providers have to decide on which platforms they want to have apps, which distributors they want to use, and then which monetization sources. This is not the mobile OS skirmish—a few platforms are not going to dominate, at least not for a while.

CTV is a challenging space to play in from buyer and seller angles. Like in the early days of RTB, it may behoove major platforms come together to agree on some standardization, but the market isn’t demanding it yet.

As for measurement, it’s easy to chastise third-party measurement companies for dropping the ball (or haphazardly refitting their linear solutions for digital), but the fragmentation is really a force to be reckoned with—it makes digital display fragmentation look like a jigsaw puzzle for toddlers. Here’s to IAB Tech Lab’s Open Measurement initiative encouraging innovation and cooperation.

F— It, We’ll Do It Live

The panel on “Next Creative Frontiers” was dominated by talk of… live events. Concerts, conferences, block parties, you name it.

Wait—we’re digital media people! What do we care about live events?

Well, a live event is probably the best place to leverage the most advanced digital media technology such as augmented reality. Live events are a fertile area for incorporating (or experimenting with) new digital technology and connecting with users on mobile devices for both advertisers and publishers alike. In fact, amazing things happen when the two parties come together—talk about premium…

Stop Being Reactive on Privacy Issues

For the last few years, the industry has been in a defensive pose in regards to user privacy and proper data use—we’ve been ripping our hair out figuring how to comply with GDPR, CCPA, or the next byzantine set of regulations to drop from the sky; on another front, we’ve been clawing our faces solving the puzzle of targeting and monetizing on the mobile web now that ITP has left us flying blind in Safari.

Digital advertising tends to be a reactive industry in general, with momentary bursts of proactive innovation (real-time bidding comes to mind). The “Privacy Please” folks suggested we’ve been so panicked by regulatory and cookie crackdowns that we’ve failed to embrace the opportunity to integrate or build technology that not only satisfies data privacy concerns, but also drives additional revenue (or conversions, depending on your positioning).

Does that mean consent management platforms (CMPs)? Well, the “Privacy Please” folks suggested not necessarily—we’ll probably see that kind of tech baked into most platforms in the near future.

No Medium Is Hotter Than Audio

I won’t call 2019 “The Year of Audio” because a) I hate those kinds of superlatives and b) I’d probably curse the whole market to fall on its face tomorrow. The opportunities just keep coming in audio, whether it be through diverse formats like podcasts, location-based targeting, the potential to reach people in cars, and—oh!—behold the programmatic wonderland.

Content is easy and efficient to produce, which means creative is the same. As Spotify’s Julie Clark demonstrated during her Programmania presentation, programmatic and creative have never been closer in another medium or format. Perhaps innovation in this space will encourage advertisers to close the gap between programmatic and creative on the whole…