Not To Change The Topic, But A Cookieless Future Is About More Than Just What Google Does

Amy Fox, VP of product, Blis

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 Amy Fox, VP of product at Blis.

New year, same industry struggle: the death of third-party cookies. 

Just when things started to feel a bit less overwhelming, Google announced another change: It’s replacing FLoC with Topics. Brands and agencies – here we go again. 

But whatever you want to call it, FLoC or Topics, let’s be clear on what we’re all trying to accomplish: finding new, privacy-first ways to accurately understand and target audiences at scale and, ultimately, help advertisers remain relevant to consumers.

Lofty goal. However, there are a few things to keep in mind before you pin your hopes on Google’s Topics.

An old conversation repackaged as new 

As AdExchanger has already rightly observed, “one of the main concerns bubbling up among ad tech folks is that the categories returned by the Topics API for targeting will be too broad.”

For example, if you visit The Wall Street Journal, “news” will become one of your Topics for that week – but the API won’t discern the type of news you’re consuming, such as whether you’re addicted to Hollywood gossip or the political updates on Russia facing off with the US in the UN Security Council debate. Very different things.

Because the Topics API relies on high-level domains, such as www.wsj.com, rather than the full browsing URL (www.wsj.com/news/politics), all that Topics will reveal is the generalized categories of pages consumers are viewing. 

And don’t forget, although Topics sounds innocuous and gives friendly names to a consumer’s browsing categories, Google still controls every aspect of the process, including the interest groups themselves and how they get assigned.

Based on what we know so far, Topics simply sounds like a watered-down version of FLoC.

The tiresome search for a unique solution

The industry has been going back and forth for a long time on what the perfect privacy-first solution might look like. But based on research we conducted in January, US media planners seem to be way ahead of the game, compared to their peers in the UK and Australia. They’re the only ones reporting that privacy-first solutions are a priority this year.

Almost half of the planners we surveyed are considering a mixture of contextual targeting, UID 2.0 and FLoC (well, Topics now) as the most viable alternatives. With FLoC going away, media planners will no doubt be wondering how the change will impact their ability to find the right solutions this year and whether Topics will give them what they’re looking for.

One thing we all need to bear in mind is that while Topics eliminates the issue of fingerprinting via cohorts to improve privacy, it creates a way less reliable targeting solution, because the data source will now be temporary and domain-based. Topics will likely deliver quite the opposite of what media planners, publishers and advertisers are looking for. The new aggregated browsing labels won’t be able to deliver relevant enough intel to help advertisers achieve their goals.

If media planners and brands are still looking for a miracle solution to tackle privacy concerns while keeping advertising relevant once and for all, I’m sorry to say that Topics on its own is not it.

Changing the focus, staying on Topic

We need to stop trying to find a replacement for the granular targeting solutions we are used to. The granularity and nature of targeting will, of necessity, change in the coming years. But what we can’t lose sight of is the need for solutions that allow us to target addressable audiences at scale.

It’s time to change our collective focus and address the audiences advertisers are already missing out on.
With the cookieless era just around the corner – and it’s already here on Safari and Firefox – most media planners and buyers are already missing out on 45% of the addressable scale they previously had access to. Even with the introduction of new targeting solutions such as Topics, we estimate that more than one-third of the market will still likely remain unaddressable through current methods such as Topics and unified identifiers.

It may not seem immediately pressing, but planners should be thinking about this newly unreachable audience and what they can do to get these currently unaddressable audiences back on the plan. The best way to do it is by testing cookieless solutions before the Chrome deprecation deadline hits.

This year is not about Google. Or FLoC. Or Topics. It’s about focusing on what’s important. 2022 is the last opportunity for agencies and brands to come to grips with privacy changes and find workable solutions.

Avoid the temptation to keep on changing the topic.

Follow Blis (@blisglobal) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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