Advertising Guest Columns
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Progress in spite of chaos: Cookie-less advertising marches ahead

Following the release of Equativ’s latest Identity Indicator report, Marine Desoutter argues that amidst a deeply fragmented and uncertain landscape, the industry is at last accepting that there is no one single road to cookie-free success.

Industry players feeling that cookie-free advertising progress hasn’t moved far this year have strong grounds for frustration.

After Google started 2022 with a reversal of previous privacy sandbox advances by axing its flagship proposal — killing FLoC and launching Topics — its decision to give third-party cookies another 12 months of life support has added to a feeling of Groundhog Day chaos. Factoring in the constant stream of antitrust lawsuits and confusion about whether the UK Data Reform Bill will soon rewrite data consent rules or not, development seems slow, if not stunted.

But despite all this, the desire for change hasn’t faded. Publishers and brands understand that operating without traditional trackers isn’t a future goal; it’s an urgent current priority. And as our latest Identity Indicator report shows, they’re pushing ahead with efforts to find the best cookie-less path forward, even if that means moving in many directions at once.

Covering eight major markets, results highlight positive steps are being made as buyers and sellers harness mixed approaches for powering privacy-first targeting and monetization.

Privacy-first browsers gain greater ground

This time last year, our identity barometer found browsers still accepting third-party cookies held the biggest share of ad inventory. That broad ratio remains in place, but the needle is encouragingly starting to tip in favor of those blocking cookies by default.

Comparisons against Q3 2021 illustrate auction share for Firefox and Safari has grown in most markets, with UK mobile and desktop inventory up by 6% and 8%. Unsurprisingly, especially privacy-forward Germany continues to boast the highest level of zero-cookie ad space overall, at 35% for desktop and 19% on mobile. Most interesting, however, are gains beyond Europe.

Jumps in wider markets suggest an important shift is in motion: including Brazil’s 12% slice of mobile auctions, equivalent to a 100% increase since Q1 2022 alone. While sitting outside the GDPR’s remit, wider markets are clearly responding to rising regulations — such as Brazil’s data law passed in 2020 — by boosting inventory volumes in cookie-free environments.

There are exceptions. Among the only markets to have lost ground, the US has seen its volume of Firefox and Safari auctions slip marginally on desktop and by several points for mobile, now sitting at 14% and 25%. Yet growing momentum to pass federal data legislation and a recent executive order to better protect EU data make it likely that privacy-first browsers will keep winning a larger share of auctions, in spite of lingering cookie use in Chrome.

Defying gloomy expectations — to a point

In other corners of the identity landscape, determination to fuel ongoing evolution regardless of delays and uncertainty looks to be helping some options fare better than anticipated.

Following Google’s red light on alternative identifiers, 2021 was clouded by fears of negative impacts on efficiency, targeting, and data access. Yet gloomy visions haven’t necessarily been realized. Alternative ID uptake has climbed apace, potentially buoyed by a slight softening of positioning from Google and willingness to support publisher use of encrypted identifiers.

Again, Brazil shines brightest for fast growth — seeing a year-over-year spike of 12% — but the US preserves a firm lead: with almost seven in ten (69%) auctions including an alternative ID, it maintains the highest global ranking and places above Germany’s 65%. Where the UK has experienced a marginal dip from Q4 2022, it also comes just behind the market top three with 62% usage.

Perhaps yet more surprising is promising compliance with Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT), for the UK at least. Dispelling fears around mass opt-outs in the wake of the rollout on iOS 14.5 devices, the UK has seen positive consented inventory soar by 2%, totaling 34%.

A less positive story elsewhere, however, does indicate consent-fuelled in-app advertising has some way to go. Not unexpectedly, greater adoption of devices on the new operating system has fuelled higher availability of iOS 14.5 ad space, yet bar UK growth and Italy’s stable 33% rating, consent has tumbled universally, falling in the US -14%, Spain -1%, and France -3%.

Embracing a fragmented future

The currently mixed picture underlines the enduring need for flexibility. As market conditions fluctuate and regional advances vary, tapping a blend of approaches will be key to keep ad serving and income flowing. This includes not only harnessing different types of identifiers, but also compliant methods of activating non-consented audiences.

The fact that rates of ad inventory without positive GDPR consent have stayed relatively static suggests targeting approaches based on non-personal data are reaching a certain level of maturity, with select areas experiencing declines. It’s arguably no coincidence that especially privacy conscious markets — and those with the largest number of GDPR fines under their belt — have also made significant but small steps to trim non-consented inventory: with Spain and France both cutting unconsented inventory by 1%.

At a wider level, advertisers and publishers are focusing on cultivating audience trust and exploring different methods of enabling ad targeting when lack of consent means no IDs can be sent with bid requests. For instance, volumes of inventory with no ID present are close to level with use of alternative IDs in several markets, including the UK (58%), France (45%) and the US (53%), while Italy has experienced a 10% uplift since Q1 2022.

Publishers and advertisers across markets haven’t taken relentless setbacks and moving goalposts as an excuse to slow down; instead, they have risen to the challenge of powering on through indecision. While fragmented, this hard-won progress signals encouraging determination to adapt and maintain efficiency using available, compliant methods. It also shows the industry is at last accepting that there is no one single road to cookie-free success.

Marine Desoutter
Product Marketing Lead, Demand, Equativ

Equativ is the new single name for Smart Adserver, DynAdmic and LiquidM — three proven innovators in advertising technology. The vertically integrated company combines client expertise and engineering excellence to serve the interests of both the supply-side and demand-side, offering the market its own independent ad server, SSP, buyer tools, and media services. Headquartered in Paris and New York, Equativ operates globally with a team of more than 450 in 20 offices.