The pandemic has seen businesses of every kind doing exactly that – accelerating their transformation. At a baseline, many companies are enabling teams to work remotely, changing or cancelling budgets, adapting workforces or reimagining and transforming altogether to become “digital first” businesses. 

Yet even before COVID-19, the advertising industry was in the midst of a huge transition. GDPR put a spotlight on data privacy for every industry, creating a necessary reckoning with how individual consumer information is gathered, held and shared. The ePrivacy Directive (expected to be updated as the ePrivacy Regulation in the near future, further expanding its scope and becoming immediately legally binding across the EU) meanwhile has enforced consent for cookies and driven greater transparency from the ad industry over how they function. 

Together, along with platform changes and technology vendors, GDPR and the ePrivacy Directive are helping to usher in long-term changes to how brands deliver meaningful, privacy-friendly, ad experiences. 

It’s become clear this changing landscape will require the industry to move beyond its reliance on the third-party cookie. So, now is the right time for brands, agencies and technology vendors to think about how we reset. Let’s use this as an opportunity to drive an improved ecosystem, one with clear baselines of quality, accurate performance measurement, and tailored, relevant and privacy-friendly creative experiences. 

With over 17 percent of firms expecting their total marketing budgets to increase over the next 12 months, according to IPA Bellwether’s latest report, it’s clear that the industry is aiming towards recovery. If we get this next phase right, and harness the current momentum of change and the resulting digital transformation, we can put in place an ad ecosystem with profound benefits for all parties; a stronger, safer and more secure environment for the consumer and the brands who look to inspire them.

Building up from a baseline of quality

As the complexity of finding and interacting with audiences increases due to the deprecation of the third-party cookie, the importance of holistic measurement and how we utilise data becomes paramount. A less-is-more approach to data, and creating clear baselines of what media quality and performance mean for each brand is key. 

But in a fragmented ecosystem, creating a baseline and aligning it with broader business imperatives is easier said than done. 

It’s best to start small, and build from there. A straightforward baseline of quality might be built around making sure ads appear at the right time and in the right place. Adding to that, they should reach the right audience, in a brand-safe, fraud-free, viewable and targeted environment. 

In order to keep brand safety top of mind, standards laid out by the the 4A’s Advertiser Protection Bureau (APB) Brand Safety Floor and Brand Suitability Framework that is also supported by the Global Alliance for Responsible Media’s (GARM’s) should be built upon as necessary, for any specific brands. 

With a clear baseline in place, organisations can begin benchmarking quality and performance based on data that translates across multiple markets, channels and partners. This enables them to align and compare performance on specific sites and apps, or individual campaigns, orientated around meaningful business outcomes, and customer experiences.

But how can agencies and brands accurately gather and utilise that quality and performance data at scale?

Creating clarity in performance and satisfying consumers

One route for agencies and brands to achieve greater visibility into performance is through tools that analyse various data points, for example how an ad is being viewed. This anonymised data can offer a privacy-friendly method so brands can refine their campaigns by prioritising high-performing environments and ad experiences. This contrasts with cookie-based strategies, which track individuals, attempting to serve them ads based on their behaviour. 

Meanwhile, third-party verification of measurements can give brands confidence that the insights they receive are accurate and stack-up against their quality baseline; for example, verifying that ads are only counted when they are fully viewed, by a real person, in a brand-safe environment and in the intended geo. 

This is key to really identifying where activities are offering a return on investment. That clarity enables marketers to optimise or predict performance across different environments and campaigns, identify where improvements can be made and strip back in areas that simply aren’t cutting through. 

Over the longer term, a suite of quality measurement and targeting solutions like these, which create more transparency across how different channels and environments are performing, will actually benefit the consumer. By refining activities based on the intelligent use of data, the consumer experience can be bolstered with ads that are resonating. Further, this approach to performance measurement can be operated at scale, in a privacy-friendly way, in contrast to the cookie-based approach that has led to intrusive ads consumers dislike. 

In short, by using data more efficiently and transparently to deliver meaningful consumer experiences, the ad ecosystem as a whole can undergo a beneficial transformation. Brands become more accountable, budgets create greater return, and consumer relationships are strengthened through relevant experiences that offer real value to audiences. 

From the impact of the pandemic, to the shifting regulatory landscape and the emergence of new technologies to reach audiences, things are changing fast in our industry. But let’s not be afraid to adapt, as after all, adaptation is the bedrock of progress.