Categories: Marketing Articles

by Wendy O’Donovan Phillips


Changes to digital advertising in 2021

Should you be worried about privacy or misinformation?

To provide a clear answer to that question, members of the Big Buzz leadership team virtually attended the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Annual Leadership Meeting, a five-day conference featuring some of the brightest minds in marketing, advertising, government and technology. Throughout this weeklong summit, we gained tremendous insight into the current marketing landscape and a data-driven forecast of where it’s headed.
Chief among the themes covered in the lectures, seminars and roundtables were:

  • The consistent degradation of user privacy online and the industry’s plans to address it (including a major shift by Google)
  • The litany of misinformation and unreliably sourced news online and the ensuing social and political divisions

In this piece, we’ll summarize some of the findings presented by and insights we gleaned from some of the industry’s most prolific minds.

Tectonic Shifts in Google’s Advertising Methodology

In 2020, $292 billion was spent globally on digital ad spend, and more than 50% of that total came from Google. As such, changes in the way it approaches digital advertising will have a tremendous effect on the industry at large. Specifically, the company plans to stop selling ads that track people’s web behavior and target them accordingly, as well as to halt investments in the technologies responsible. This transition is due largely in part to privacy concerns.
“We at Google made an announcement last week… once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build third-party identifiers to track individuals as they browse the web, nor will we use them in our products . . . For years as an industry . . . people would allow us to use personal data to show them very relevant advertising, and in exchange, we would offer them free content. Today, 81% of consumers say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits. They are increasingly concerned about how they are being tracked as they move across the web.”
Jerry Dischler, Vice President / General Manager for Ads, Google
This shift will have a direct impact on small businesses. 67% of data leaders report that their organizations are prepared for the impending loss of third-party cookies and identifiers.[1] We urge our readers to determine whether there is more they can do to equip themselves for the coming changes and ensure there is a minimal gap in marketing outcomes as a result.
This shift will also create more difficulty for digital marketers without a proper background in digital ads, meaning that those organizations using vendors who until now relied on the ease in targeting provided by third-party cookies will be put to the test versus those with a fuller understanding of marketing. Third-party cookies are only one piece of this puzzle. Organization leaders must ascertain the degree of knowledge and preparedness possessed by both internal and external marketing teams when it comes to the digital advertising infrastructure as a whole.

A Focus on Privacy

As Google’s move away from third-party cookies suggests, privacy is at the forefront of the industry conversation at the moment, in many ways due to its own culpability in the breakdown. “I actually think a lot of the blame lies on us as an industry,” says Brad Weltman, Director of Privacy Policy Engagement at Facebook. “There were halcyon days there for a while… I think we’re now realizing that whatever we did [around privacy] wasn’t enough. We now know that people are concerned about privacy. I think we have to continue to develop innovative ways to address those concerns.”
It was welcome hearing tech leaders admit fault in their operations and approaches while committing to do things better, but it was even more reassuring hearing about proposed legislation and the potential of an external system that will help police the industry and provide a more consistent model with fewer loopholes to achieve consumer trust. According to Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Ranking Member on the Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, “The importance of one set of rules is that it creates a level playing field . . . Companies won’t work with 50 different states and their [individual approaches] to privacy. You will have one federal standard, one set of rules, and one regulator, The Federal Trade Commission, so consumers can have more privacy.”
This level of proposed collaboration across industries and aisles is a first step in the arduous journey to a collective cultural shift away from compromised privacy on the part of everyday people using the internet. The historical lack of collaboration among industry players as well as that between other industries and government bodies was a significant factor in the technological quagmire we find ourselves in today, and we hope that this level of concerted communication continues as we traverse the long road ahead.

An Industry Commitment to Repair Our Broken Shared Reality

Much of the divisiveness and polarization in recent history stems from the consumption of misinformation consumed by people online, an imbalance in the facts or perspectives presented to them, or most often, a combination of both. These issues have a direct origin in the space of online targeting; it becomes an impossible task to remedy the woes of today when there are so many different factions perceiving reality in completely different manners based on the information presented to them.
The more that we fracture our collective reality, the more impossible it becomes to collectively address the important issues. As Tristan Harris, Co-Founder & President of the Center for Humane Technology put it, “The more we use social media, the more confused our perceptions are of the other side. We are sort of shadowboxing with a mirage.”
For this reason, the marketing and advertising industries are taking a stand against misinformation and manipulated information. Technology, media and advertising companies play an increasingly larger role in manipulating our online experiences and in some experts’ estimation, our human experience.
“We face a crisis of trust. More than half of Americans believe that government leaders, business leaders and journalists are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false . . . Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, sums this up as the Era of Information Bankruptcy, and he’s right. We have a duty as an industry and a society to crush misinformation, disinformation and hate speech. None of these have a place in the ad-support digital ecosystem . . . Have we made progress? Yes. Can and should we be doing more? Yes. We should be working collaboratively as an industry to root it out.”
-David Cohen, CEO of the Internet Advertising Bureau
It is commitments like these from major players in the marketing and advertising world that will help move us in the right direction, away from division and towards a more unified existence. In terms of specific solutions, Senator Blackburn proposes a federal standard of regulation.
If you were struck by these insights and revelations, your enhanced inbox awaits at Simply enter your email address in the first form field on the page and rest assured we will never share it with a third party.
[1] IAB State of Data Initiative 2021, published Mar. 11, 2021

by Wendy O’Donovan Phillips



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