Advertising Guest Columns
4 mins read

How can publishers get brands back on the first-party data train?

Earlier this year, publishers and brands were united in their commitment to adopt first-party data solutions. Although 90% of marketers in the UK had no established solution for managing the loss of third-party cookies, just as many saw the benefits of creating a new first-party based ecosystem supported by enhanced data ownership.

The sell-side have executed on their commitments to this strategy, driving the shift towards first-party data and IDs. However, after Google’s deadline delay, many marketers have lost steam. Despite understanding deprecation is still the direction of travel, many have slowed or paused preparations.

Without a fast return to synchronised progress, this situation will ultimately result in difficulties on all sides, including reduced targeting precision and monetisation potential. 2021 also brought the launch of FIRST-PARTY NOW — an initiative from Adform that has provided proof of concept for first-party led operations by running advertising campaigns under post-cookie conditions.

Over the last few months, trials have already seen first-party impressions outpace spending for those fuelled by third-party data. Moreover, tests are generating insights into how evolved systems will function and what changes are needed to ready them for the privacy-centric future.

Here are the key learnings for publishers looking to power advances and get brands on board.

Leading the charge, to a point

Denmark is a primary testbed for marketers, agencies, publishers, and also for Adform due to its high use of Firefox and Safari which have already phased out third-party cookie support. A leading position in first-party adoption is therefore not surprising, but it did surprise many when Denmark was first to pass the ultimate milestone of having higher spend on first-party IDs than on third-party cookie IDs back in June and July 2021.

The majority of publishers in wider Europe are also making progress. Daily numbers of first-party IDs being shared with Adform through the bidstream reveal that more than eight in ten of the largest publishers across the UK, Spain, France, Germany, and Italy do so while percentages exceed 70% for the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Combined with strong penetration of cookieless browsers such as Safari and Firefox in most regions, growth means opportunities for buying first-party and third-party impressions are now equal. Or in other words, publishers have made first-party advertising a viable option by significantly increasing availability. This huge shift that happened over 2021 is helping to ease marketer concerns around scalability and enable development, but there is some way to go on the buy-side.

At the same time, publishers are coming up against external obstacles. One of which is a lack of support for passing first-party IDs from major supply-side platforms (SSPs), including Google SSP; an issue that is increasingly fixable as broader SSPs develop their capabilities and more publishers use multiple platforms. Another is the hard task of gaining buy-side confidence and participation.

Taking in the CMO perspective

While it is clear some marketers are not doing enough, reasons behind their slow development extend beyond Chrome’s adjusted timeline. For publishers aiming to reignite interest in the first-party ID transition, this makes better understanding of ongoing challenges crucial.

Several difficulties are due to confusion stemming from demand-side and data management platforms (DSPs and DMPs). Major forces are touting the best future route as either relying solely on authenticated ID point solutions or Google’s Privacy Sandbox, which hinders progress on two counts. Firstly, anxiety about previously mentioned scale restrictions with log-in IDs is dampening enthusiasm among marketers and advertisers who believe they are the only option.

Secondly, this leaves many marketers and agencies waiting for initiatives such as FLoC to take off: a tactic that will likely bring hold-ups as questions about its privacy measures linger and premium publishers remain unconvinced they will receive adequate returns for their plentiful user data while also only being applicable to consenting Chrome users.

From the publisher perspective, siloed activities are also creating problems. With most large players implementing first-party cookie solutions in isolation, offerings typically only work for marketers looking to reach audiences publishers can easily source and build using specific data and first-party IDs. In practical terms, this means there is minimal value for sectors needing datasets that require aggregation of cross-domain data points and lookalike modelling, such as telcos.

Powering the onwards journey

Next steps for publishers should involve a blend of buy-side education and willingness to push their own efforts further. Key momentum should come from recognition that multiple adoption barriers fall within their power to reduce.

Thanks to recent research, publishers now have evidence they can harness to recapture marketer attention. Spotlighting data that demonstrates up to three times higher click-through rates (CTRs) and conversions, and 50% lower cost per acquisition (CPA), in Safari and Firefox will speak to their current focus of achieving instant wins in cookie-free environments, as well as illustrating the potential for broader application across in-app, connected TV (CTV), and audio.

Resolving the issue of access to first-party data is less simple, but it is becoming more feasible. Until publishers are open to first-party data, buyers will continue to drag their heels and default to deal IDs as the second-best choice. This makes it worth considering the growing range of buying platforms allowing publishers to share first-party ID based audiences and enable activation at a granular level, which paves the way for greater testing and validation.

It would be easy to conclude that publishers are speeding forwards and buyers must catch up, but this is far from the whole story. Sellers have sustained their determination to make first-party IDs useable and demonstrate their possibilities. To get marketers back on board, however, they also need to appreciate the importance of both underlining the very real opportunities on the table and playing their part in enabling the move to first-party operations as standard.

Phil Acton
Country Manager, UK & BeNeFrance, Adform

Adform is a global, independent and fully integrated advertising platform built for modern marketing. Its enterprise technology – Adform Flow – harnesses superior user experience and a scalable, modular and open architecture, to enable seamless management of the whole advertising campaign life cycle. It provides clients with enhanced control and transparency across their advertising operations, including ownership of all data from campaigns. Founded in 2002, Adform employs over 600 staff across 25 global offices.