Opinion: It’s nothing personal, ad targeting without personal data

Recent moves by Apple and Google mean that the industry must now look at different ad targeting methods. Diane Perlman, CMO, at location-powered advertising firm, Blis thinks that ‘different’ doesn’t necessarily mean worse.  Here she navigates us through some of the options…


As the advertising industry must move away from targeting based on identifiers and personal data, brands need to find new ways to drive key business outcomes through personalised and high-performing digital advertising. In a recent study undertaken by Blis, we found that 78% of brands and agencies surveyed said they were concerned or very concerned about the disappearance of cookies, while 61% were concerned or very concerned about the reduction of IDFAs.

This is hardly surprising given that changes to IDFAs and cookies will fundamentally affect every part of the campaign cycle – from planning through to activation and measurement.

Many across the digital ad landscape are rushing to find new ways to target users based on identity – with Universal IDs (UIDs), Contextual, Google’s FLoC and first-party data all being touted as the next big thing. The challenge here is that, as an industry, we have only just started out on our data privacy journey, with GDPR being the first step. And, as consumers become more aware of the sensitivity and power of their personal data and the need to protect it, it’s only natural that we are going to want to see more safeguards put in place.

This likely means that restrictions on the use of personal data are only going to get tighter. So, how can brands survive and thrive in this new “impersonal” landscape? Blis believes there are five key concepts that brands need to keep in mind when looking at planning
campaigns and working with partners in the post-cookie future:

1. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

There are a number of cookie or ID alternatives solutions being put forward across the industry. However, it is generally understood that – at least in the short term – there is unlikely to be one clear winner. So brands and marketers are likely going to need to work with a number of different technologies and solutions to achieve their campaign goals. It’s therefore important that marketers factor this into their plans now so that they can move forward effectively.

2. Innovate, don’t imitate

Several of the new proposed cookie and ID solutions actually imitate current offerings, which means they may not fully address the real issue of consumer privacy. For example, UIDs replace an anonymous cookie with an identifier based on consumers’ actual emails or phone numbers. Are we then simply replacing one PII with another? Meanwhile, Google’s FLoC solution serves the same purpose as the cookie, albeit just in a repackaged form. For this reason, it’s important that we keep innovating to create a longer-term sustainable solution.

3. Don’t sacrifice scale

One of the biggest challenges to all the proposed solutions is scale. Anything that requires consent is instantly going to see a huge drop in reach – how many of us will want to share our details on sign-in and with how many publishers? Even optimistic estimates put this at
30%. So marketers need to look carefully at the solutions they are using to ensure they are still getting the reach they need.

4. Make sure it’s made to measure

Measurement is arguably the element of the campaign lifecycle that is going to be hit hardest in the campaign planning journey. This is going to be tough on marketing teams that have become dependent on granular, multi-touch attribution to demonstrate the effectiveness of their ad spend. Instead, they are going to have to accept that attribution may become less 1:1 and more modelled, similar to how OOH and TV have always done it.

5. Be flexible

One of the key elements of effective digital advertising, frequency capping, is under threat. Frequency capping is crucial to an efficient campaign as it sets the maximum number of times an ad can be served to a specific device. Historically, this has been controlled using cross-site methodology, which relies exclusively on personal identifiers. While adtech companies are adopting site-specific IDs and IP addresses, marketers may need to find a more flexible model that supports a combination of different ID types for a single campaign if they are to manage frequency capping effectively.

What does this all mean?

There is still a lot of uncertainty around how things will pan out in the digital ad space, and advertisers and marketers need to almost be over-prepared. The future will come with challenges and things will look different, but different doesn’t necessarily mean worse. One thing we do know is that the old model was flawed and this is a unique opportunity to come together as an industry to adopt a new, more sustainable ecosystem. With the right plans in place, we can collectively emerge with innovative privacy-focused solutions that will ultimately benefit businesses and consumers alike.


Diane Perlman, CMO, Blis