Will commerce save the open web - or put it out of its misery?
Are there limits to making everything shoppable?
A few days ago, I moderated a panel at Luma Partners’ Digital Media Summit titled “Programmatic: Saving the Open Web.” The panel was set to run for 50 minutes, and I was somewhat worried that we might hit a lull or run out of things to talk about.
That was not a problem.
If you’re old enough to remember the old Morton Downey show, or maybe a classier Jerry Springer, you may have a picture of how the panel went. Maybe we’ve all been on Zooms too long, but it got a bit, let’s say, passionate. I never quite made it through my questions.
My big takeaway from the session was that a lot of publishers and ad tech companies are feeling screwed, or really worried about getting screwed, by the expanding dominance of Google, Facebook, Amazon - and now seemingly any retailer with a list of emails.
Ok, so maybe the panel wasn’t that crazy. During the session, we talked about how brands seemed to be moving their budgets further toward the walled gardens, and what the rest of the web should do about it, especially now that cookies are going away. Panelist Shawn Riegsecker CEO & Founder, Basis Technologies said he doubted that any of the cookie alternatives, such as the Trade Desk-backed UID 2.0 were likely to work, while Tanja Mimica CEO & Co-Founder, of the DSP Martin, expressed hope that better attribution would tilt things in the Open Web’s favor.
Regardless, many in the room seemed ready to express a feeling that things just weren’t fair. Someone contended that consumers are spending 60% of their time on the Open Web, yet dollars are only going to the sites that can capture those last clicks before conversions. Some of those clicks are the result people searching for brand names and then clicking on ads - a dynamic that Matt Prohaska, CEO and Principal, Prohaska Consulting, called “bullshit.”
That is not a new complaint. While it’s likely true that Google has long been able to make easy money by getting credit for searches, and even purchases, that probably would have happened anyway -well, nobody said that alley oop dunks don’t count - even if they don’t take much effort for a seven-footer camped under the basket.
Plus, there are few signs that brands are abandoning this last click obsession, despite many promises that we were headed towards a much more sophisticated attribution world. Earlier at the show, Luma predicted that Retail Media will be a $60 billion category by 2024.
That’s an ad category that didn’t exist a few years ago, yet will soon rival TV. And it signals to me that instead of trying to move away from last-click metrics, brands are going further down the funnel - to the very bottom. I’m not saying that retail ads aren’t effective - but there are a lot of easy dunks in there. If we thought the brand-building process was being truncated, well this will further shrink the journey.
So what is the rest of the web to do? The answer may be obvious - or completely elusive. As Criteo CEO Megan Clarken put it during a keynote earlier in the day, people make decisions on what to search for, buy, or share from going on on the open web and reading all about stuff. As an industry, we just need to find a way to capture that demand, and get credit for it.
“In the commerce media story, there’s a need for publishers, media owners, retailers who are becoming media owners and brands to start to share,” she said. “The more reasons you can give them to share, the more access you have to first party data.”
That’s essentially the thinking behind initiatives like UID 2.0, which are progressing - slowly. Many of the retail networks are also looking to utilize their data outside their own walls, which should spread some of the spoils to other websites. Still, the internet is pretty big.
Clarken predicted that it won’t just be retail media that surges in the near future -that we’re going toward a world where everything is shoppable. “When you have commerce everywhere, it’s a bigger prize,” she said.
No doubt. But a shift that significant requires either changing many ingrained behaviors (like shopping on Amazon instead of on a publisher’s site) or changing metrics. You need a huge footprint and a huge amount of data. Criteo - which many dummies like me left for dead a few years ago once cookies started fading - may be one of the few ad tech companies that can see enough of the web to build the kind of AI solution to make this work. Surely there are other candidates, but probably not many.
Still, what would a ‘commerce everywhere’ web look like? Clarken cited Roblox- which has its own currency, and is all about consumption - as a model. The problem there is, take a look around the Open Web right now. It looks nothing like Roblox.