The Genie is out of the Bottle: A Parable to Transparency

That part of the Disney movie where the genie manages to escape the bottle and start making all kinds of promises to its “master” always brings an “uh-oh – what is going to happen next?” reaction from the crowd. The reason? In spite of promises of gold, wealth and fame, the crowd is conditioned to the slow, incremental temptations the genie will dangle in front of the protagonist. We all know there is no such thing as a “free lunch” – even if the genie makes you think so.

This is also the case when it comes to privacy in the modern ad tech world.

No rational ad tech person is going to dispute that Google and Facebook dominate the market. With full control of a near infinite quantity of quasi-valuable inventory, Google and Facebook have successfully parlayed this control of media and programmatic people-based targeting into a prohibitive closed-loop advantage.

We say closed-loop because nearly 84% of the display marketplace has migrated to programmatic audience-based targeting. The promise of audience-based targeting and “direct mail online” pushed context to a second priority. Targeting an individual by their address or their email and matching it to a cookie sounds a whole lot better to an advertiser than continuing to make wild guesses as to who is viewing the ads. Couple that with control of 40% to 50% of user identifications and proprietary access to infinite impression volumes, Google and Facebook know precisely who is being targeted and who is being reached. You, on the other hand—the folks writing the checks—only get minimal insight as to what audience is working and a generic sense of who was engaged with your advertising because of “privacy”.

While it is standard practice to obfuscate by emails or clusters in the name of privacy, the advertisers are demanding more. They want better access and measurement of their customer and prospect lists.

Enter person-based targeting and social ID onboarding. This isn’t a bad development for the future of ad tech…it is reality that, little by little, the genie has started to inch its way out of the bottle.

Attribution and transparency have become a common request by agencies for any campaign of scale. Increasingly aware that more of their dollars are going to online marketing, advertisers are demanding a direct mail level of transparency. They demand to know who is being reached and the return they are getting for their ad spend.

Matching back purchases and impressions to the original advertising audience is a baseline request. In the cookie world this is done by approximating an identity match in the onboarding process. Alternatively, this can also be done with better coverage and accuracy through mobile location, impression history, and IP and device matching. Whether matching to a cookie through person-based matching or to a unique ID through IP and device, the common practice is to onboard a postal mailing list, emails or phone numbers directly into Facebook, Google DBM, LiveRamp or Neustar. Because the business requirements are demanding it, the match required to execute attribution is to a person or a household.

The transparency the check writer requires starts with a sold match to an individual customer. Whether that is a cookie match to an email with a 40% match rate or an IP to location and device at 85%, the goal is the same—make each match between the buyer at the store register to each marketing touchpoint as deterministic and transparent as possible. Metadata and modeled attribution results just don’t cut it anymore.

What this means is that identifying individuals and exposure of PII in the conventional sense is no longer debatable. The genie is out of the bottle. Identity exposure is behind the walled gardens and only available to those who write a check, or is incrementally unveiled through ever-improving tactics in onboarding. We need to be able to attribute our campaigns to the audience we provide if we want to be relevant.

Facebook recently announced that it had successfully mapped the world—yes, the world—down to a grid of 5 meters (that is about 15 feet). The statement said that the purpose of this effort was to support disaster relief. Seems to me like it might also have something to do with targeting ads and attribution to mobile devices.

The advertiser will continue to demand better transparency in every campaign.  Innovations in ID linking, mobile devices, location mapping and IP Targeting will get better and change the rules. It is incumbent on Ad Tech to find an alternative model for protecting identities. At this point, focusing on how we can support the proper use of identities in marketplace—how we protect against misuse—seems like a more constructive long-term strategy than chasing the privacy genie.

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