Goldilocks Vs. The Three Little Pigs: Three Options For The Future Of The Web

Joshua Koran, head of innovation labs, Zeta Global

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media. 

Today’s column is written by Joshua Koran, head of innovation labs at Zeta Global.

Google’s recent blog posts (one by David Temkin and another by Deepti Bhatnagar) created even more confusion regarding the future of the web – a high bar given the prior anxiety related to the threatened loss of cross-site identifiers.

To understand why cross-site identifiers are so fundamental to the open web, we need to understand why they exist.

These identifiers help marketers measure and optimize the value generated from their media spend by acting as a bridge across the various publishers with which they advertise, as well as their own web properties.

If the ability for marketers to measure and improve their media spend is impaired, they must either:

  • shift spend to outlets that provide solutions that are optimized via real-time feedback, and/or
  • discount the prices they pay in a manner proportional to the decline in value they receive across the open web.

As a publisher do you want fewer customers or ones who pay you less? Currently, there are three proposed futures for addressability across the open web.

I invite you to examine each of the three proposals through the lens of two famous fairytales: “Goldilocks” and “The Three Little Pigs.”

Stay with me. Both stories involve a lead character trying to seize someone else’s property – but the tales differ in how they treat this aggressor.

House of straw: No cross-site/app identifiers for the open web

Despite differing opinions about the future of addressability, one outcome most people agree on is the double-digit impact to publisher revenues that result when marketers lose the ability to effectively measure and improve their media spend.

The IAB Tech Lab recently released its specification for seller-defined audiences and context.

The good news? This specification recognizes that ad-supported publishers can only monetize their web properties “by ensuring the opportunities they offer to engage audiences deliver value to marketers.”

The bad news? It recommends publishers avoid supporting cross-site identifiers in the bid stream because such real-time value measurement requires the “comingling” of data, which “should always be avoided.”

Yet, without such feedback, marketers cannot optimize the value generated from their cross-publisher advertising. In this regard, the IAB Tech Lab is aligned with what I’d call “internet gatekeeper thinking”: that removing cross-site or app identifiers is as Goldilocks might say, “just right.”

Much like the house of straw in “The Three Little Pigs,” this IAB Tech Lab’s specification is built with the flimsiest of materials and is therefore a poor accommodation to ensure marketers can value what publishers supply.

In rearchitecting the open web, we should make sure the components we place into the bid stream are fit for purpose – that they do not undermine the value exchange that supports people’s ad-funded access to most publisher properties.

House of sticks: Some cross-site/app identifiers for the open web

The IAB Tech Lab also published another proposal that supports generating cross-site/app identifiers from user-supplied information, such as an email or phone number. This solution aligns to the open source UID2.0 initiative spearheaded by The Trade Desk.

Although the blog post penned by Google’s David Temkin stated that Google will not “use alternate cross-site identifiers in their products, nearly all of their rivals will support such people-based identifiers. While some privacy advocates believe these cross-device IDs are, as Goldilocks might put it, “too hot” to handle, some of the largest publishers will receive the consent required to use them (provided they offer appropriate notice and choice).

Google’s announcement also made clear it will continue to accept a marketer’s own first-party data to improve third-party advertising across Google’s various owned-and-operated domains.

While sturdier than a house of straw, this is tantamount to building a house of sticks. Encrypted email solutions come with issues that need to be acknowledged and addressed, especially as they pertain to scale and view-through attribution.

House of bricks: Scaled cross-site/app identifiers for the open web

Given that the most optimistic estimates for the scalability of the aforementioned proposal is a meager 20% of impressions, pseudonymous addressable media identifiers are a much-needed solution that can scale across the entire open web.

Moreover, most brands do not want to interrupt the consumer journey by challenging them to enter an email before being able to access their website. Accordingly, having a logged-out addressable identifier is required for brands to understand and optimize their cross-publisher advertising. With such an identifier, marketers can more accurately measure the value generated by their campaigns, whether they relied on encrypted email identifiers, context or both to deliver advertising.

The Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media, a consortium backed by the 4A’s, ANA, WFA, leading brands and technology companies, is advocating the use of cross-site and app addressable media identifiers in conjunction with an improved accountability program.

Since this cross-site/app solution makes contextual and encrypted email-based solutions even more valuable, such identifiers actually augment other engagement tactics rather than replace them.

And going back to Google’s blog, Temkin states that Google’s DSP will be left out in the “cold” (please enjoy that Goldilocks porridge reference) when it comes to alternate identifiers, meaning that there is an opportunity for others to provide marketers with real-time optimized value across the open web.

In the story of “The Three Little Pigs,” the sturdy foundation of the brick house withstood the threats of the big bad wolf. As we look to rearchitect addressable digital advertising, I hope we are able to build the future of the open web on such a sturdy foundation.

What about Goldilocks?

Both “The Three Little Pigs” and “Goldilocks” have a character who is forcing its way into other people’s property.

A chief difference between these two children’s stories is that the characters in “The Three Little Pigs” are trying to build something better, whereas Goldilocks only criticizes what others have made. In further contrast, while the pigs all securely live in the brick house, Goldilocks doesn’t have a happy ending. (In one version of the tale, she jumps out the window and runs off into the woods. In another she’s … eaten by the bears. And, regardless of her fate, she’s eaten all the porridge, broken the little chair and messed up all the beds.)

Making sure publishers of all sizes can support marketers with real-time optimized cross-site advertising provides benefits for everyone.

Marketers will allocate budgets and change prices in line with the improved results they see. The greater the revenues publishers earn, the wider the diversity of content they can provide, which in turn provides people with even greater choice as they navigate the open web.

In a fairy tale, people live happily ever after. To ensure the open web continues to thrive, we will need to protect its foundations – interoperable data that enables marketing effectiveness across different publishers powered by the efficiency of programmatic applications that optimize marketer outcomes.

Anyone who tells you different is living in a land of make believe.

Follow Zeta Global (@ZetaGlobal) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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