"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 Mario Diez, CEO at Peer39.
Behavioral is the dominant method for targeting online advertising, to the point where it’s become nearly synonymous with the concepts of both “targeting” and programmatic advertising itself. Indeed, programmatic revenues account for 80% of all digital display advertising revenues, and it’s safe to say much of this is driven by behavioral targeting.
This is obviously going to change, following Google’s announcement that it will make traditional cookies obsolete in two years, resulting in a much smaller cookie pool for behavioral targeting.
While many see this as a doom-and-gloom scenario, there are two things working in advertisers’ favor. First is that behavioral is merely one way by which to target inventory. Second, and perhaps most important, is that advertisers have a prime opportunity to test non-behavioral targeting strategies right now, thanks to Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP).
Behavioral targeting is only possible when there is an audience match made by the buying entity tasked with finding the advertiser’s audience. Right now, a very small portion of Safari users allow such a match to occur. Safari holds 14% of the US desktop browser market and more than 50% of the tablet browser market, and only 13% of Safari users allow tracking of their browsing habits.
That means just 1.7% of desktop internet users are both Safari users and trackable, leaving advertisers missing out on a higher income audience segment. It’s worse on mobile, where 9% of Safari users allow tracking, compared to 79% of Chrome users. As a result, prices for targeted Safari ads have declined 60%.
It’s clear that advertisers need a separate Safari strategy, and that success on Safari could prepare them ahead of Chrome’s two-year timeline. But the harder question is how to build this strategy.
Understanding bid logic and buying
For their part, many advertisers may not even be aware that a huge swath of audience is unavailable or missed as a result of targeting strategy, largely because of the way that ad tech is marketed to brands and agencies and how it is configured to buy media.
Behavior has become the determining factor for exploring an impression, so other signals, such as page context, are often gated behind a behavior decision in most buying platforms. If a DSP doesn’t immediately know who a user is, the advertiser is not bidding on that ad impression. Some advertisers might think that’s the point, as technology has been marketed around terms like “efficiency” and “media waste.” Many argue that the only sensible approach is to spend money on known users.
A successful Safari strategy starts with understanding bidding logic and how it impacts the audience that will ultimately see the ads. Some buying platforms do not automatically gate their buying decisions around behavioral data. Advertisers need to know the default settings of their tech partners and potentially make changes to ensure there aren’t gaps in their audience strategy
Getting Safari specific
While it’s important to understand bidding logic, advertisers also need to be blunt in their request. Simply ask every technology and data provider how they deal with executing their audience buys when there is no cookie or ID match. For a while, ad tech providers offered some version of “there’s nothing to worry about yet” as an answer, but that’s clearly no longer true.
In the event there is no cookie match, some DSPs respond with a no-bid response or don’t respond at all. The result is advertisers can’t buy inventory that the platform decides not to bid on, such as cookieless Safari inventory, even if that inventory fits within the advertiser’s greater targeting strategy.
Yet there are alternatives to a no-bid response. The DSP can make a decision using technical signals attached to the impression, such as the channel, operating system, browser type, ad size, site section or the language of the page as determined by the browser. This information can be used to make inferences about an end user, such as whether someone using the latest version of a device, with the latest operating system, is likely an early adopter. This information is valuable on Safari, because it helps identify probable high-income users with the latest MacBooks, iPhones or iPads, without using behavioral signals.
It makes no sense for advertisers to completely write off Safari’s share of the total desktop market just because they can’t make a cookie match, especially if algorithms and bidding technology can now optimize toward these technical signals.
Escaping the cookie chase
Since such a small share of users are trackable, successful Safari strategies will likely give the cookieless a central role in the targeting and buying strategy. While there’s no need to completely abandon cookies, at least not yet, adopting this kind of thinking in Safari can prepare advertisers for the coming large-scale changes. Right now, Safari might represent a gap in a buying plan. But as Chrome enacts similar policies, along with emerging privacy regulation, the gap will become a chasm if buyers fail to prepare.
Shrinking cookie pools will create unprecedented levels of competition for those consumers who remain targetable. But as more and more of the internet population exists outside the cookied world, it makes sense for advertisers to begin evolving and finding other ways to deliver targeted media.