How Publishers Can Fight The Identity Crisis

Matt Prohaska, principal and CEO at Prohaska Consulting

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Matt Prohaska, principal and CEO at Prohaska Consulting.

I am finding that the major issues in our industry are increasingly overlapping with the major issues of our country, and not just when hearing Zuck, who has no journalism or editorial background, attempt to explain free speech.

I’ve always thought a small reason for the lack of urgency in some countries on the climate crisis is that most in the media and government still refer to it as climate change, as if we are simply witnessing the leaves changing in the fall or subtle changes in the environment that ebb and flow over time.

Unless you work at three specific companies, we have an identity crisis.

Like the climate crisis, there are still deniers who ignore minor factors like science and hold up a snowball in Congress to demonstrate that it can’t be getting hotter since we still have snow. There are plenty of publishers that think everything is fine, while their eCPMs slowly erode like ice shelves in Antarctica: tough to isolate specific reasons and easy to miss.

Still others make the same lazy arguments in both scenarios: It’s just too hard to figure out or too big for any one person, or publisher, to solve. It’s going to stifle business to spend time on it. It’s already too late, so why bother?

We know many publishers have seen this on their own, because for our publisher clients, we have seen eCPMs on Safari browsers drop 28% over the last 90 days, not a mere blip since Safari now commands 16% of global browser share, up from 14% last year, according to StatCounter.

One of the major reasons why Google, Facebook and Amazon have been crushing it for so long capturing B2C ad spend is that they have the largest deterministic footprints in the world. (Another reason is how they tip the scales on attribution and measurement, but that’s for another column.) They know exactly who I am and I am fine with that because the value of personalization in content and marketing is worth the tracking needs, and I have not seen personal damage to spoil that exchange.

Meanwhile, as a paid subscriber to The Wall Street Journal, I still have to log in about 50% of the time when clicking on a link from my own inbox to read a story, because WSJ doesn’t know it’s me. And signing in with Facebook with one tap is so much more convenient than remembering my WSJ password, which Apple doesn’t store for me, so sure, let’s give Facebook more visibility into my behavior that WSJ should have had in the first place.

It must have been a coincidence that soon after Apple announced its ITP updates shutting off opportunities for all proper tracking, not just for ads but for all other services, Apple started running national TV spots touting its privacy features. The only way to protect your data from all the bad people is to buy a $1,000 phone from the same company that could have lowered the price of its phones if its iAd business didn’t fail, twice.

The time to act is now

Publishers must get their deterministic footprints developed and change the conversation with their loyal audiences. Here are three things publishers need to put at the top of their 2020 to-do list:

  1. Create an easy way to have everyone log in to access their content and services, not just for paid subscribers. Why are we OK with having Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Snap, IG, Pinterest, TikTok, etc. know exactly who we are, but everywhere else we’re afraid someone is following us? Those platforms show why personalization matters. This isn’t 2002, when publishers feared creating a “speed bump” that would cause readers to leave in droves if you forced them to log in or have the site autorecognize them, in-app or elsewhere.
  2. Organize your DMP, or better yet, get a real customer data platform to break down organizational silos and leverage paid, earned and owned media to connect your content, promotion, email and paid ads into one streamlined audience experience.
  3. Get involved with the IAB Tech Lab, a natural place to create these deterministic ID graph standards and build a trusted coalition to review firms working on this to allow for easier building among publishers and brands. Its gathering in San Francisco on Sept. 19 announcing its token proposal was a great start. But it needs momentum now.

Plus, an important consumer advocacy initiative to educate people about what our digital planet would look like with personalization will go a long way to dispel myths and fears created by companies and divisions (think Apple Safari, Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox) with business models and leaders that don’t care about keeping this ecosystem intact.

Remember when the internet looked like this in 2003 with untargeted pop-ups and no frequency caps? (Maybe a slight overdramatization.) Source: Earth Apocalypse.

Our team stood on AdExchanger’s stage last year at Programmatic IO NYC and predicted that every ad impression would be fully deterministic and opt-in, on every media channel, in every developed country, by the end of 2023.

Sounds like a while from now, but one year later, we have not made much progress.

If publishers don’t start taking real action now, they will be as underwater in two years as Miami will be in 30.

Follow Matt Prohaska (@mattprohaska), Prohaska Consulting (@TeamProhaska) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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