Expert Roundup: Data-Driven Advertising’s New Playbook

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Data collection is perhaps the most prominent topic right now in the worlds of marketing, media, and commerce. There’s a combination of handwringing and opportunistic disruption as the door slams shut on the unfettered user tracking, targeting, and adtech norms of the smartphone era.

This means that the privacy era we’re now entering will have an inherently different playbook. That’s bad for established players unable to pivot and demonstrate agility. But like any revolutionary period in tech, it will be good for innovative players who can build tools and practices around new realities.

To see what this field of players is currently doing and thinking, we’ve rounded up top industry voices. This is part of Street Fight’s monthly ritual in which we tap our community to provide insights on each month’s editorial theme. We’ll do this in three installments, continuing here in Part II.

Expert Roundup: The Rise of First-Party Data

Bryan Cano, Director of Media Strategy, StitcherAds, on Adaptability as a Success Factor

The last few months have been a taste of a new world where data flow is restricted. Many marketers are facing diminishing audience sizes in remarketing pools (~40% decrease in audience sizes), loss in spend efficiency in part from the loss of attribution (~30% decrease in attribution), and increased costs (~80% increase in CPMs YoY across paid social publishers). However, the impact has not been distributed evenly. Below are some common themes for brands that have felt a more muted impact from recent privacy changes.

Signal Volume: Though the tracking pixel has been undeniably handicapped, brands with omnichannel initiatives capturing offline activity and e-commerce website activity are experiencing greater resilience due to the sheer volume of purchase signals they record. Additionally, many brands have adopted Customer Data Platforms (CDP) with consent management to fill privacy-compliant gaps in signals across all marketing channels.

Creative: While the restriction and delay of signals have decreased audience retargeting, total addressability is unhindered. Naturally, this places significant importance on a brand’s creative assets. With optimized creative assets, brands can still attract engagement from their target audiences even if those audiences are not directly retargetable.

Context: Though contextual advertising is a tried and true method mainly associated with banner ads on a user’s favorite blog or website, brands should take a step back to boil down the concept of pairing marketing messaging with the right context. Ensuring creative assets and messaging are aligned with the expressed interests of an audience is allowing brands to maintain ad relevance and engagement. For example, in-platform activity serves as 1st Party data and is retargetable. A retailer may launch unique videos catered to specific themes such as Shoes, Jackets, and General Gifting. By retargeting audiences who watched at least 50% of the videos, the brand can 1) retarget and 2) increase relevance based on the context of the previous engagement.

Many brands have leaned into the recent privacy-centric changes and demonstrated resilience and willingness to adapt. While there are clear benefits to behavioral, 1:1, personalized targeting, personalization is not entirely diminished. Brands leveraging signal, creative, and context are still showing the right products, in the right place, at the right time.

Jackie Reef, Director of Strategy, AdColony, on Context as King

Previously, advertisers were hyper-focused on reaching individual users. However, Apple’s privacy changes have forced the industry to reconsider the desire to reach specific individuals and focus on reaching holistic groups of like-minded audiences. “An audience” is no longer a group of discrete device IDs but the relevant reach of a campaign to receptive consumers.

As the number of addressable devices declines due to privacy changes, mobile-first contextual targeting strategies have become more important than ever. To achieve desired scale, advertisers need to supplement their addressable buys with buys strategically curated in contextually relevant environments.

But this is not the simplistic contextual targeting that occurred pre-addressability. By making contextual targeting smarter, more diverse, and programmatic-friendly, you can efficiently and effectively reach your desired audiences in the environments they are most likely to engage, optimizing toward KPIs.

In the end, data is still a crucial piece of the puzzle. However, the ecosystem is shifting to a privacy-first world in which the data signals utilized to find audiences will not be signals that reveal user level data. Rather, signals will help us understand audiences as a whole.

Todd Wooten, Founder and President, VRTCAL, on the Link Between Privacy and Antitrust

Privacy initiatives — whether through governments or platform regulations — are hot topics right now. Antitrust and the Big Three are key in the conversation of how the digital media sector will evolve. Private and public efforts are underway to accommodate, circumvent, or simply adapt to new regulations as best as possible.

Some within the industry are attacking the problems head on, while others remain in denial. We must ask ourselves if privacy concerns and antitrust movements are different or interconnected. I believe they are closely related; and if you consider the two from a consumer protection perspective, they can produce the same beneficial result in the end.

Therefore, through its mass of data, digital media needs to protect the consumer by protecting consumer’s private data and promoting the benefits of freer markets.

Michael Zacharski, CEO, ENGINE Media Exchange, on the Rebalance of Influence

Generally speaking, there has been an education gap in terms of what online data is collected and how it is used as a currency to power free products and services that underpin the web. At best, there will be a rebalance of influence between the large platforms and big tech and the independent internet ecosystems. At worst, the big platforms will get even bigger and erode the principles of equal access and innovation that have created the open web as we know it.

Regardless, this data re-set, data re-architecture, and data re-assessment is bringing important topics to light. The process will ideally create an open playing field where consumers are educated in how data and advertising pay for services and companies are more forthcoming in how they use and collect data. If we do this right, it will be a momentous win for all, and a transparent path forward, driven by choice.

Evan Bowen, Senior Vice President, Strategy,, on the Monetization Balance

With third-party cookies crumbling and Apple continuing to push for consumer privacy on mobile phones, we’re finally surging towards a better and cleaner internet. However, it’s critical that the industry maintains its ability to monetize. To succeed moving forward, we need infrastructure that supports a new wave of advertising more focused on contextual targeting, and new, emerging channels that drive increased publisher revenue while supporting user privacy.

Stay tuned for the next installment, when we’ll spotlight a fresh batch of voices…