For Publishers, When It Comes To Display, Blame the Format, Not the Targeting

A controversial new study by Carnegie Mellon University found that digital publishers get roughly 4% more revenue for an ad impression that is cookie-enabled — or personalized — versus one that isn’t. That’s not much. And while the sample was limited — they only reviewed ads for one “large U.S. media company over the course of one week” — it highlights a question publishers have been grappling with for a long time. 

Is cookie-based ad-targeting worth it? Given the mounting costs of investing in data stack technology; reputation issues (the “creepy factor”) and regulatory concerns like GDPR and CCPA that publishers routinely face as a result of behavioral ad-targeting, is the value really there? And is it justified? The Carnegie Mellon findings suggest that the benefit is minimal. However, as I see it, publishers are focusing on the wrong issue.