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How Google Is Quietly Forcing Digital Sellers to Embrace Traditional Linear TV Paradigms

Posted by JT White on Apr 13, 2021 10:00:00 AM

How Google Is Quietly Forcing Digital Sellers to Embrace Traditional Linear TV Paradigms

If you have been following news about the digital ad ecosystem at all, the fact that Google is going to remove all third-party cookies from Chrome by the second half of 2023 (delayed from the original target of 2022), is not news to you. If it is news to you and you work in the digital ad space, you should really read this. 

To set the stage a bit, Google is not out on a limb here. Blocking third-party cookies is something their counterparts at Safari and Firefox already do. But since Chrome accounts for 68% of worldwide browser usage, the impact will be considerably different. 

So what does this actually mean?

It means that the way you have been selling ads on the web stops entirely. Cookies enabled you to fingerprint someone on the internet for a period of time, monitor their activity and target ads to them accordingly. The entire construct of web-based targeting is built on the back of cookies. 

With GDPR, CCPA and other privacy regulation now in place and more control being given to users over how their device IDs are used, the entire digital ecosystem will look different, which means digital sellers are going to have to find ways of targeting people that don’t depend on having a 1 to 1 understanding of who they are. Sound familiar? Because it should.

TV to the rescue

After years of telling traditional TV sellers to think more like digital publishers, now we need to do the opposite. The key message is that digital sellers can continue to capture premium video ad revenue by deploying targeting concepts that are more familiar in linear TV. 

Let’s explore how TV paradigms will translate to digital.

1. Content adjacency

As TV sellers have done for years, digital publishers can tell a lot about an audience based on the content they are consuming. As is said on every panel at every industry event ever, “Content is king.” So digital sellers are going to have to gain a better understanding of the content they serve and the audiences that engage with it instead of starting with the audience and backing into the content as they’ve done for years.

What they can really learn from TV is that not all content that seems like it’s connected will be; very often, two types of content that feel highly divergent share a fair amount of audience. Whether it be news networks and TV movies or sports and traditional game shows, we often see audience overlap that might not be obvious on the surface but makes a ton of sense when you think about it.

2. Nailing down frequency

One of the many reasons the “cookie revolution” is happening is that so few digital publishers put proper restrictions on frequency capping. How many times did you see one ad more than five times in a single day on multiple websites? This leads to ad blindness, and—even worse—a horrible brand sentiment. TV, on the other hand, has always been mindful of repetition. Most TV sellers have rules in place around frequency of copy and how many of the same verticals can even advertise within a given time slot. 

No one doubts that frequency matters, but digital has failed miserably on “when” to be frequent, while TV has mastered it. (VOD is a notable exception; it’s as bad if not worse than digital at frequency capping).

3. Reach through premium content

The beauty of digital, as my CEO Ashley Swartz puts it, is to move from fishing with a net to fishing with a line, which has been super meaningful. But without cookies and with blinded device IDs for targeting, your fishing hole just got pretty small. As a result, premium publishers will need to start leaning into their reach just like TV sellers have done; in practice, this means focusing on tentpole content that’s of interest to large audiences or a lot of niche programming that maximizes reach. This will be a paradigm shift because much of the digital world has been focused on cheap click-bait instead of creating a bigger tent.

The future is bright

The good news here is this isn’t doomsday. Digital publishers can still do very sophisticated targeting; they just can’t be lazy about it anymore. These sellers will need to leverage data science and invest in new inventory management and pricing tools to make up for the loss of cookie-based tracking. Many have already done this—in part because honoring user privacy is a more sustainable way to run an ad business.

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