2021 Holds a Bright Future for Advertising. Yes, Really

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As 2020 drew to a close, the world let out a collective sigh of relief. The promise of a New Year and a blank slate is more enticing this year than in many past. From Covid-19 to a divisive presidential election, Google’s announcement to sunset third-party cookies to the passing of CPRA, this year has tested our personal and professional mettle time and time again. 

2021 will prove brighter and better. Here are some thoughts on what some of the bright spots in advertising might be. 

Auld lang syne, third-party cookies

As 2021 approaches, we grow closer to a final farewell to third-party cookies. Google’s announcement that it would phase out third-party cookies early this year led to confusion and panic in advertising about what the implications are for audience targeting and, overall, the future of the industry. 

From conflating third-party cookies and third-party data (not the same) to thinking contextual targeting will be the sole lifeboat (it’s definitely not), the path forward was fuzzy to some but is now getting clearer. 

We all understand that we need to create a future-proof way to recognize users across domains and devices, platforms and identifiers. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have a lock on identity within their walled gardens (data goes in, but it cannot come out). If the open web doesn’t find a solution for identity outside of the walled gardens, publishers will lose even more revenue to the giants as marketers will be forced to spend where they can measure their ROI. 

2021 will see the industry, and the media covering the industry, continue to focus on the demise of the third-party cookie as players announce their independence from cookies throughout the year. Pressure is on publishers to meet advertiser needs for targeting, optimization, and measurement, which will lead to smarter innovation and a better, fairer ecosystem. 

We will collectively declare our independence from the third-party cookie, and that will lead to more collaboration and cooperation across the ecosystem. With an identity solution interoperable across the ecosystem and freely accessible, any size player will have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. 

Renewed focus on data quality 

In the new year, data quality will be clutch for digital advertising. Marketers and publishers alike will continue to focus on first-party data collection as the baseline for their data-driven strategies. But that first-party data view won’t be sufficient for finding and engaging new customers. 

Data enrichment — layering in second- and third-party data — will be a key ingredient across the board. First-party data is tremendously valuable, but it provides a slim view of users within the confines of these sites and apps. In addition, first-party data lacks the scale that marketers need to optimize their ad spend.

This is where high-quality second- and third-party data can fill in the gaps of first-party data and provide a richer, more panoramic view of the customer. Data providers will need to provide proof that their data collection meets certain standards of quality and privacy compliance. That’s a win-win for everyone. Richer, scalable audiences will improve addressability and the consumer experience. 

Consumer privacy is king

The Crown was a star of 2020, but for 2021, consumer privacy will be king. It seems like a no-brainer to plan for more state and national privacy laws modeled after GDPR in the coming year. A U.S. federal privacy law has been speculated about already. These regulations are empowering us to have a real relationship with consumers and to use consent to advance a better value exchange.

In terms of solving for consumer privacy, education will be key, for both the industry and consumers. We all can do a better job doing right by consumers. More identity solutions will crop up alongside authenticated options that embrace data minimization, true privacy by design, and a non-PII approach.

While 2021 holds a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the pandemic, there are absolutely things that marketers and publishers can and should plan for. That entails making identity, data quality, and privacy a key part of their strategy for the year. 

Andy Monfried is CEO of Lotame.