The Future of Advertising: What’s Your Interest?

Google Announces it will not allow individual identifiers

On March 3rd, Google shocked the advertising industry by announcing in a blog post that it will not support individual identifiers, such as hashed or encrypted email addresses, as an alternative to third-party cookies on Google Chrome — the web’s dominant browser. Instead, Google announced that beginning in 2022 the future of online advertising will be based on interest-based cohorts. 

Ad tech stocks, including The Trade Desk and Criteo, who have placed their bets on the Unified ID 2.0 solution that uses individual identifiers, plummeted following the announcement. The media response to Google’s announcement was swift and widespread, though there are many questions that remain unanswered. Let’s focus on what we know and how advertisers and publishers can adapt to and profit from Google’s announcement.

Two key takeaways from the March 3, 2021 Google announcement

Google’s announcement made it clear that they believe it’s critical to build a privacy-first web that does not rely on Personally Identifiable Information (PII) graphs based on peoples’ email addresses. Google stated that, “advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers.” Google’s replacement to individual identifiers is an advertising model based on users’ interests — not their email address.

What are individual identifiers?

An example of an individual identifier is an email address. People use their email addresses to log into Chrome, which can be tagged as “identifiers” and operate similarly to third-party cookies tracking users around the internet as they click on stories, and products, revealing their interests. Google is rejecting the use of individual identifiers, like email addresses, because it says this practice has led to a general distrust of the internet and puts the future of the web at risk. Instead, Google will support interest-based cohort advertising.

What is an interest-based cohort?

An interest-based cohort is a group of individuals who interact with similar content or share common interests. An interest-based cohort could be “Tennis,” grouping together people who follow ATP news and others who read stories about Serena Williams. All individuals within this cohort could then be made available to advertisers for tennis-related advertising and offers without ever revealing any personal information.

The critical difference between individual identifiers and interest-based cohorts

Individual identifiers provide personal data to advertisers without peoples’ knowledge that their PII is being tracked. Interest-based cohorts are large clusters of people who share similar online reading habits and general interests. Significantly, cohort clusters don’t reveal or share personal information when they are created or used for advertising purposes. Going forward, advertisers will receive an identifier for a cohort rather than for the individuals within it.

What’s the bigger story here?

The biggest story here, and the most important message for publishers to hear, is that Google has confirmed that first-party data relationships will be key to delivering value in a cookieless world. In fact, Google reaffirmed its support of first-party relationships on its ad platforms for partners. Media companies that build robust interest graphs of their audience, based on their users’ declared and identified interests, will align seamlessly with Google’s privacy-first advertising modus operandi in 2022 and beyond.

The biggest threat to advertisers

The reason why Google’s announcement shocked the ad tech industry and sent stocks plummeting is because, beginning in 2022, advertisers will no longer be able to rely on user identity for ad tracking on the web’s dominant browser. Without identifiers in the bidstreams, advertisers will need to work more closely with publishers to access high resolution audience data — including and especially, interest-based cohorts derived from first-party data. The necessity for advertisers to work more closely with publishers to access high resolution data hasn’t existed for decades. It’s a big deal and a huge switch from the status quo.

The biggest opportunity for publishers

Ironically, the biggest threat to advertisers is the biggest opportunity for publishers. In our ebook, we talk about how the death of the third party cookie is giving publishers the freedom to shift their attention away from the third-party programmatic ad model towards a first-party ecosystem rooted in audience engagement for the first time in over 20 years. The media business is returning to a golden era of great content and growing audiences.

How Viafoura helps publishers build interest-based cohorts

At Viafoura, we work closely with publishers to generate interest-based audience data by leveraging our engagement tools and natural language processing (NLP) capabilities to uncover audience interests, intent and affinities. We help media companies collect first-party data from their audience via commenting tools, live chats, and personalized content recommendations. We also help media companies generate robust interest-based data about their audience by understanding and inferring user intent and interests.

We support declarative interest data

Our ‘topic follow’ feature is the most accurate method for understanding user interests. If a user chooses to follow the topic “sneakers” on a sports media website, they indicate that they are interested in sneaker culture and a prime candidate for marketing and advertising from Nike and Adidas, for example. It’s a direct and declarative method for organizing individual interests into interest-based cohorts that a media company can leverage for non-personalized ad targeting — easy as that.

We use natural language processing to generate interest-based data

Viafoura can also generate interest-based data from user-generated content on our media partners’ digital properties. We use NLP to extract topic and entity-based data, as well as sentiment, from user comments and chats. For example, based on the user comment, “I love my Tesla. It’s by far the best EV on the market!”, Viafoura is able to automatically identify the topic “electric vehicle”, the entity “Tesla” and a positive sentiment score. We then associate topics, entities and sentiment with the user profile for cohort assignment.

We generate interest-based data from reader behaviour

This one is simple and effective. If a user frequently reads articles about “baking recipes,” we include them in a ‘baking and food’ cohort. Easy as pie.

We generate interest-based data from topic-based chats and AMAs

We know that a user who participates in a topic-based chat about the Toronto Raptors is interested in sports and basketball. Similarly, a user that participates in an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) session on vaccine safety has an interest in healthcare and vaccinations. All of this interest-level data is collected by Viafoura and added to user profiles for assignment to a relevant cohort. Significantly, Viafoura enables media companies to run branded topic-based chats and AMAs on their owned and operated sites — not off-site on social networking sites.

Interest-based cohort creation

The bottom line

Viafoura helps media companies and publishers develop comprehensive and dynamic interest graphs based on their audiences’ behaviours and activity that is foundational to enabling interest-based cohort targeting and compliance with Google’s interest-based advertising model.

If you want to read the media responses to Google’s announcement on March 3, 2021, you can click here to read coverage from The Verve, here to read an explainer from Reuters, and here to read a column in AdExchanger. Finally, you can click here to download our free ebook titled The Publisher’s Guide to First-Party Data for the full context of the situation.

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