Advertising Guest Columns
4 mins read

How publishers can address the identity crisis

Google may have given them a stay of execution until 2023 – but third-party cookies are still facing the chop. Cookie deprecation, privacy regulation and Apple’s decision to make its iOS ad identifier opt-in, creates one of the biggest disruptions to publishers’ advertising models in a generation.

For a long time, third-party cookies and device identifiers have been the foundation of people-based marketing, enabling granular targeting and precise measurement on cross-site, cross-channel advertising campaigns. Now at risk are marketer tactics like retargeting, frequency capping, conversion attribution, and behavioral targeting. As a result, the advertising industry has to evolve and publishers need to look for alternative monetization strategies to continue to maximize the value of their inventory.

So, what should publishers be doing to protect themselves and profit from what comes next?

Develop your first-party data strategy

What is your plan for increasing first-party audience data? As third-party data dries up, publishers should be leveraging their cherished, direct consumer relationships with audiences, incentivizing readers and viewers to willingly supply their information in return for valuable content.

One of the key ways to ensure successful first-party data collection is to begin educating the consumer on the value exchange. As consumers have become more aware of the value and use of their data, the days of blindly ticking ‘consent to all’ are slowly fading away. This means publishers will need to ensure they are delivering clear and simple dialogue that is transparent when detailing how and why a person’s data is being used. This respectful process of collecting consent will further build trust between the user and the publisher, and in turn strengthen publishers and advertiser relationships as they are able to generate a strong partnership.

Additionally, audience descriptors can help create even more relevant advertising than before, and therefore can come at a premium. Publishers’ own user IDs, made available through supply-side platforms (SSPs), make these profiles buyable, keeping alive some of the ad buyers’ favourite tactics, if only within the publisher’s own environment.

But not every publisher is large enough to act on opportunities like rolling out user authentication gates, so evaluating industry ID solutions will nevertheless be necessary to achieve cross-site and cross-channel demand at scale.

Publishers can expand their access to demand by developing coalitions or adopting existing, broader industry ID solutions. They are typically either “deterministic” (anchored in consumer-provided information) or “probabilistic” (built by grafting behavioral signals onto deterministic data in the bidstream). Publishers need to find the right balance between these techniques.

Empathise with users and advertisers

At this important time, it is critical to understand advertising partners’ objectives and marketing funnels. Publishers should build deep relationships with strategic buyers, and really sell their unique ability to gather direct audience data with permission.

This paradigm shift can open up new kinds of inventory opportunities, so publishers should be prepared to lead buyers into new marketing territories.

As a starting point, many publishers are investing in building newsletters, feature gates and other data capture opportunities. But doing so successfully requires making users comfortable with what should be a value exchange – quality content in return for personal information.

From all sides, exploiting the first-party opportunity means successfully serving the needs of both advertisers and audiences in changing times.

Think beyond identifiers

Success is not only found in user identity. For publishers, ad value can be mined from content itself.

Aligning an ad with the inner meaning of adjacent content, rather than of the user consuming it, may sound old-fashioned. But technology-powered contextual targeting plucks out signals like sentiment, emotion, weather, time of day and inferred purchase intent, turning them into buyable indicators.

So, consider contextual targeting a key component of an overall data strategy, offering privacy-safe targeting at scale, even in the absence of user identifiers. For best results, work with a platform that offers contextual capabilities, or work in collaboration with regional partners to define a taxonomy that resonates in individual markets.

The future is bright

We are at the beginning of a new advertising world.

That world will be driven by a balance between respecting consumer privacy preferences and supporting the open internet, powered by responsible, relevant advertising. It is important that players talk to partners – including platform partners, identity partners, data providers, publishers and advertisers – about their plans and how they are preparing for the future after cookies.

The midst of every disruption always feels tumultuous. For publishers, the current ad challenges may seem profound. But, managed correctly, they can also be the springboard to a more effective future.

Anne Claire Chenu
Director, Northern Europe, Xandr


A business unit within AT&T, Xandr powers a global marketplace for premium advertising. Our data-enabled technology platform, encompassing Xandr Invest and Xandr Monetize, optimizes return on investment for both buyers and sellers. For more than 143 years, AT&T has used data and technology to inform and improve the consumer experience.