The Big Story: Attribution Evolves, Media Networks Explode

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Digital media has always had great attribution – great last-click attribution, that is.

Despite lots of time, effort and money spent convincing marketers to embrace multitouch attribution (MTA), the tactic was doomed. Its Achilles’ heel was an overreliance on user-level tracking, and that was true even before cookies went away. Walled gardens made it more difficult to track across channels, and after Google pulled the DoubleClick ID in response GDPR, it was curtains for MTA.

But from the ashes of MTA, new attribution and analytics vendors are beginning to rise. Over the past two months alone, Measured raised $21 million and Triple Whale raised $24 million. Other attribution startups of note include Rockerbox and Northbeam.

Many marketers, especially DTC brands, are looking for alternative attribution solutions. Changes to Google Analytics mean the free platform isn’t as compelling anymore.

But don’t expect a future in which marketers will be able to measure channels granularly and shift budgets accordingly.

The concept of “attribution” – trying to close the loop on individual conversions – is being replaced by the notion of “contribution,” as in measuring the value that a channel contributes to a brand’s overall business, says AdExchanger Senior Editor James Hercher.

Cross-channel media measurement companies are “essentially abandoning the term attribution,” Hercher says.

Peak media network?

Then, the news that Marriott is getting into the advertising business by deploying its data (and, eventually, ads in guest room TVs) begs the question: Have we reached peak media network?

The answer appears to be no.

Big retailers started the trend (Target, Walmart, Kroger) and smaller retailers (Dollar Tree, Instacart, Gopuff) have be following suit. And now the travel category (see Uber’s ad business and Marriott) is also positioning itself to grab ad dollars. Why? Well, these companies have a compelling pitch that combines first-party data and the ability to attribute conversions with varying levels of precision.

But although the “ad network business is high margin and just tempting,” Hercher says, it’s not a great decision for all of the companies “coming out of the woodwork with their own media platforms.”

“Some of it is desperation,” he says.

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