It’s a funny thing attending a conference whereby seemingly the biggest issue and topic of discussion are its platinum sponsors.
As the dominance of the ‘walled gardens’, specifically Google and Facebook, within the media and advertising landscape continues to grow – with half of all global advertising expected to be digital media by 2020, and 50% of all digital advertising spend captured by the two platforms – many heavyweight panelists and speakers at Advertising Week NYC were ready and motivated to raise concerns and start debating the potential pitfalls of continuing down this garden path.
The big issue raised by speakers at the conference was the fact that the walls of these platforms are seemingly getting higher as competition between the two platforms heats up and Amazon steadily chip away at the duopoly in U.S. markets due to rise in ‘voice controlled’ marketing. And as the walls get higher, the lack of integration and transparency makes it increasingly harder for brands, publishers and marketers seeking to communicate with wide-ranging audiences to dynamically coordinate content across multiple platforms.
One of the first major panels to kick-start this year’s conference was a discussion between two heavyweight executives; Luis Di Como, Global VP of Media at Unilever; and Allan Thygesen, President of Americas at Google; whereby Unilever was directly raising concerns about the issue of media wastage due to duplicated reach and frequency when advertising on different platforms. Furthermore, as we move to 1-2-1 personalised marketing at scale, this duplication may be a potential risk to brand image and ultimately impact sales performance as marketers are unable to effectively integrate and manage the customer experience across platforms and channels.
Luis explained that currently Unilever has set up a centralised people data centre, pulling customer data across their house of brands, before developing and deploying specific campaigns via media partners and platforms on case-by-case basis.
The example that he provided were their global Ramadan campaigns, whereby Unilever sought to target a multitude of customer segments with strategically placed food and drink advertisements that avoided the daylight fasting period, and were dynamically programmed to display pre-dawn and post-sunset according to specific time zones in cities around the world. He explained that this was already a challenging task for their team, however, when you have the added complexity of deploying across multiple platforms due to varying platform adoption rates in various countries and without programmatic integration the task becomes almost impossible.
It’s important to provide context about the significance of this panel discussion, as Unilever represents one of Google’s largest client accounts and have been in partnership for some years and it was interesting to see this conversation brought into the public domain and clearly something that the two companies have been discussing prior to Advertising Week.
Another example of how this lack of integration might impact a smaller organisations are the restrictions of ‘Live Broadcast’ across multiple platforms. Most businesses have multiple customer segments following across different platforms and there’s currently no way to simulcast across Facebook and LinkedIn in realtime.
In Google’s defence, the sentiment expressed by Allan Thygesen on stage was certainly not combative and he seemingly expressed a willingness to tackle the issue. Whether this plays out for all advertisers or becomes a bespoke solution for Googles largest account clients remains to be seen.
Perhaps the second biggest topic or issue related to the ‘walled gardens’ was the potential disappearance of cookies from browsers due to GDPR regulation, after alleged clandestine data sharing by Google with unknown ad-exchanges, and the rise of new browsers like Brave, who have fuelled the discussion in their pursuit to be positioned as the anti-marketing browser delivering private, secure and fast browsing. And including moves by Apple and Firefox to limit the power of browser cookies to track online behaviour.
Should cookies ultimately be removed from browsers, the entire real time bidding systems that publishers use to fill online ad inventory would be disrupted. Cookie-matching and the syncing of ad-exchanges of consumer data would cease to exist and we would return to a more ‘contextual advertising’ reality, where websites and publishers (eg; Newspapers etc) would develop proprietary advertising systems that allow advertisers to understand and engage with their audience. The prediction amongst many panelists for 2020, is that the ad industry will return to behaviour experienced in 2014 when content advertising first started to emerge.
Furthermore, the reliance of the ‘walled gardens’ to be the primary provider of customer data is expected to evolve as brands and marketers invest and enrich their own customer databases. Much like Unilever’s people data centre, the future will see brands and businesses invest in more sophisticated CRM technologies, to understand and fulfil their customers and shift the power dynamics away from the walled gardens.
As always, speculation is just that, and how the future will play out is yet to be determined. These conversations within the ad-tech industry create critical awareness of emerging issues that affect everyone – conversations that the duopoly would most likely remain silent on if left to their own devices. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.