How Realistic is the IAB’s Rearc?

As the industry deals with ITP and Firefox limiting third-party cookies and the fallout from Google’s two-year deadline, it’s become desperate in looking for a deus ex machina to replace tracking mechanisms that are dying out.

It’s as though someone had kicked out one of the legs of the stool, with everyone looking for a way to still perform attribution, measurement, and targeting in this new world. 

The race is on. The IAB’s Project Rearc has put its weight behind the email address and the phone number, which the IAB hopes will act as the fulcrum of a new ID solution that solves the privacy conundrum across devices. 

The IAB’s is just the first of proposed solutions. Behind the scenes, at conferences and in meetings, we’re told of solutions that will emerge that use CNAMEs, Universal IDs, device IDs, IP addresses, or other Rube Goldberg-ian hijinks to create the supposed 1:1 replacement for how marketing was previously done. The bridge from marketing using the third-party cookie to first-party data is as simple as snapping your fingers!

Of course, it won’t be that simple. There will not be a simple replacement for the third-party cookie. In truth, there shouldn’t be. The third-party cookie never worked as well as the industry liked to believe. Third-party data was used to measure the performance of first-party inventory, and attribution was biased toward a last-click model that benefited the triopoly of Amazon, Facebook, and Google. The third-party cookie never really worked in a society that has adopted mobile as a way of life. In a way, it’s time to bid good riddance to a flawed system, albeit one with which we’d all grown comfortable.

The industry needs to think more abstractly than they are. To desperately swim toward a single 1:1 replacement is fairly rigid thinking, and this new era requires flexibility of thought. We can’t fall into the trap of only looking at binary solutions. 

Similarly, the consumer needs to be given voice before solutions are implemented. Consumers must be given the right to decide and authorize who has the right to use their data and who doesn’t. We can only arrive at a solution once we’ve adopted a system that incorporates these tenets. 

Obviously, with the death of the third-party cookie, solutions that are solely probabilistic won’t hold muster. But solutions that are deterministic only won’t be optimal either. Those aren’t equipped for a future that’s very likely browser-less (thanks to the Internet of Things and Connected TVs). Solutions need probabilistic capabilities to tie together different deterministic identifiers.  

The future of marketing will surely rest on being able to leverage a single durable ID mapped to multiple devices, cookies, and hashed email addresses, but we are trying to divine, as an industry, what we don’t yet know. The only thing we do know is that brands and publishers need to test what’s working for them thoughtfully. Those who accept these edicts from trade associations and consultants purporting to read tea leaves without any tea are acting without all the relevant information.

Using Rearc as guidance is prudent. Using it as the bible is thinking too concretely.

Brian Silver is president at LiveIntent.

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