The Digital Ad Armageddon That Never Was
Initiatives like the Trade Desk's UID 2.0 were supposed to save the industry - which no longer appears to need saving
“Where is this disaster I'm hearing about?”
Brain and I were running through the biggest stories of 2021 in media and advertising, and almost as an afterthought I mentioned the seeming disconnect between all the doom and gloom earlier this year regarding targeting and identity, and the massive spending growth in digital media.
“The idea that there is going to be less data used in advertising…is kinda ridiculous to me.” Morrissey said. “Programmatic advertising seems fine.”
If Google and Apple’s moves to limit identifiers were supposed to bring on an apocalypse where nobody was going to be able to target anybody, it seems that nobody told the advertisers.
In fact, GroupM and Zenith both recently had to up their ad forecasts, predicting spending spikes upwards of 20%
“It’s possible that this is the fastest growth in the history of advertising, at least in known history,” said Brian Wieser, GroupM’s global president of business intelligence.
It’s hard to wrap your head around such a staggering statement in light of all the ‘end of the world’ pieces written earlier this year, as well as the mad scrambling by much of the industry to forge some kind of cookie alternative.
At one point, I read a list of 30-plus companies who were building new ‘identifiers’ that could somehow replace the cookie - ranging from ZeoTap to LiveRamp to Neustar to, of course, The Trade Desk, which was pushing UID 2.0.
Back in the summer, the Trade Desk was touting progress on this independent, industry-wide coalition that would allow brands to not lose a step in ad targeting, and maybe even world better. And all throughout this year, we heard about ‘commitments” and endorsements of UID 2.0 from the likes of IPG and Omnicom. At one point, AdExchanger was publishing ‘AdExchanger’s Regularly Updated Guide To UID 2.0”
Except that hasn’t been updated since May.
It’s worth asking, where is UID 2.0 exactly? Where are any of these cookie alternatives?
Because more recently, what you hear about the UID 2.0 plan is that it might not even function in Europe and that the IAB isn’t sure it wants to run it.
Back in November, AdExchanger did publish a case study featuring a pots and pan manufacturer Made In, which said that the targeting tool was viable, but added “UID2 is not as widespread as we would like it to be,” the company’s CEO said.
Anytime I spoke to marketers about UID 2.0 this year, there was always some hesitancy. It was hard to tell if they wanted one of these new IDs to take off as much s publishers and ad tech companies seemed to. To be fair, these industry-wide plays don’t have a lot of great history (ask Xander!)I’m not saying it's not a worthy effort, but it's better to get more organized and scaled fast.
I realize Google gave everybody a reprieve by delaying the cookie’s demise until 2023. But from here, it sure looks like the industry isn’t waiting around.
For instance, there’s the fact that in GroupM and Zeniths’ forecasts, upwards of 80% of spending is going to Amazon, Google, and Facebook (the ultimate cohort, if you think about it).
In addition, just look at the explosion in Retail Media this year. From Walmart to Kroger to Instacart, everyone’s in the ad business now, and brands are down to work with anybody who’s got first-party data and can play matchmaker. They aren’t waiting around for somebody to come up with a cookie substitute. This market always moves fast -and as you’ve heard, things have gotten accelerated lately.
Now, to be sure, average publishers that don’t have much in the way of logged-in users may see things very differently.
Indeed, it struck me how much the recent wave of digital-native publishers making major moves, such as BuzzFeed going public and Vox Media buying Group Nine felt so irrelevant in this new reality. Certainly, they have big audiences and real ad businesses - but almost no relevance in this first-party data universe.
Earlier this year Axios reported that political advertisers were moving dollars away from ‘cookie-based targeting’ to connected TV advertising. These brands can’t afford to screw around (if the campaigns fail, they go out of business). So if they are shifting in this direction, I’d take that as a sign of things to come.
Because there’s no clearer intent data than where the money is going. And as of now, brands appear to have already moved on from cookies - or anything meant to taste just like them.