Open web advertising is getting more costly: Who is winning?

Perhaps it’s good that Google delayed third-party cookie (3PC) deprecation again this summer because it’s clear the adtech industry needs all the time it can get to prepare for the implications of the eventual phaseout. 

Impacts of cookie deprecation fallout

The effects of this transition run deeper than past disruptions sparked by emerging technologies or media trends. For brands and marketers that have approached digital marketing with sheer scale as their guiding principle, the fallout from cookie deprecation may be akin to an existential crisis. The days of aiming for maximum reach with minimum spend over murky, 3PC-reliant programmatic networks are coming to an end—or, at least, the days of doing so effectively.       

Of course, Google’s latest delay means some reach-obsessed programmatic players can put off their day of reckoning. Yet more proactive teams are already working to redefine their strategic priorities as the contours of a new adtech landscape take shape. The new high ground belongs to publishers with a wealth of first-party data gathered by consent. The prices they charge to access those audiences are likely to continue to rise as marketers realize how difficult it is to track and segment audiences across the open web. What’s left of the old frontier will be increasingly prone to fraud, abuse and manipulation.

The rising costs of premium inventory

As brands survey that new world, many are determining they need access to first-class inventory to continue effectively reaching their customers, even if there’s a bit of sticker shock involved. Reputable publishers still have what marketers want: quality reach rooted in consent-based, first-party cookies located outside the walled gardens

Such premium inventory is readily available and easy to find. The only catch is, in the next era, it’ll cost a premium. Already, costs for premium inventory are rising across the board, causing a gut-check moment for brands preparing to do business in the new era of adtech. Digiday's Seb Joseph discusses the shift and what will ultimately create two sides to ad inventory: "...On one side there will be a larger portion of high-quality ad inventory powered by first-party data and consent; on the other side, there’s a long tail of poorly targeted impressions far more susceptible to fraud and manipulation."

Yet that seems to be the cost of doing business. Trusted publishers and others occupying the sell-side high ground are protective of first-party data with identifying information, increasingly limiting access to private marketplaces and programmatic guaranteed deals. The marketplaces that manage to accumulate trusted-publisher inventory are poised to emerge as next-generation power brokers.

What this means for marketers

Meanwhile, publishers are unlikely to take it easy on marketers during the transition. Sites that aggregate news content like Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc. have largely undermined the media industry's revenue model (whether intending to or not), and now that the tide is turning somewhat back in publishers' favor, they want to get paid. In Australia, for example, a group of about 30 independent publishers collaborated on a “news freeze” in February to protest the unpaid use of their content by Facebook and other Big Tech outlets.  

It adds up to a growing understanding that taking the high road during the coming era of targeted, programmatic marketing will likely be more expensive than marketers are used to. But there are plenty of perks, as well, ranging from the reputational control that comes from working with a trusted network of publishers to the improved transparency that’s likely to result from streamlined programmatic networks compared to the famously opaque marketplaces that currently dominate. 

Indeed, as Publicis Media's launch of their Diverse and Inclusive Media Exchange (DIME) indicates, companies near the center of the programmatic marketplace are taking steps to gain greater clarity and control over a process that hasn’t traditionally been known for either. 

Bewildered or uncertain marketers can also take heart in knowing not every player is brand new to a world where first-party data is paramount, quality reach is more valuable than scattershot targeting, and premium inventory is, well, premium. That’s been Epsilon’s perspective for more than 20 years with our CORE Private Exchange and continues to guide our approach to future-proof solutions without the reliance on third-party cookies

Embracing the next era of digital advertising

The next era of digital advertising will look different. Quality reach will be more expensive, yes, but internet advertising will also become more transparent, more respectful of consumer privacy, and less like the algorithmic equivalent of the Wild West. The adjustment will come with challenges, but brands and marketers will discover they can still profitably connect with their customers on the open web by embracing a new model based on a high-definition understanding of consumers that aligns with reputable publishers.