Independent Ad Tech Sees Opportunity Amid the Escalation of the Walled Gardens

Adobe and Flashtalking join forces to bring fresh competition to ad server market

Some are storming the gates of the walled garden approach to measurement. Illustration: eBoy
Headshot of Ronan Shields

Google is facing a fresh challenge to its domination of the online advertising market with the emergence of an alliance between Adobe and Flashtalking, which is taking an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend approach.

The pairing comes as independent ad-tech players eye an opportunity to compete against the ad-tech giant amid the rising tide of privacy concerns and market developments that have prompted major platforms such as Facebook and Google (aka the walled gardens) to limit advertiser access to data.

Observers often use the metaphor of a walled garden raising the drawbridge to trap a user/advertiser inside its platform when describing this phenomenon. Independent ad-tech companies, however, believe there’s an alternative, presenting advertisers the  ability to hold on to the current coin of the realm: their data.

According to Keith Eadie, vp Adobe Advertising Cloud, the choice of which ad server to deal with is now a strategic decision, not the tactical one it has been in the past. Eadie maintains that this new relationship provides a unique selling point.

The Adobe Advertising Cloud provides targeting capabilities through its various audience segments, plus relevant creative and media via its demand-side platform (DSP) which offers an advertiser a ‘unique ID.’

Pair this with the independent measurement capabilities of the Flashtalking ad server, and advertisers can verify the delivery of ad as well as the performance of specific media and creative types.

“To advertisers, establishing a single source of truth across every ad they buy is more difficult than ever as large media owners and technology platforms limit data access and reduce the role of independent measurement,” Eadie said.

“If brands can’t access data about who they are reaching, can’t own their own data and can’t have their ad buys independently verified, then many of the advantages of working with advertising technology are reduced,” added John Nardone, CEO of Flashtalking.

Other aspects of the joint offering from Adobe and Flashtalking include:

  • Combining media exposure data in Flashtalking’s ad server to prebid and postbid event data in Adobe Advertising Cloud’s DSP at a user-ID level. Advertisers will then be able to push that data to a platform of their choice or allow deeper analysis within Flashtalking.
  • Mapping the customer journey across audiences, devices and screens for a holistic view of user engagement.
  • Tying ads bought to online and offline results to optimize media buys on an accurate cost basis, which has been a challenge in the industry.
  • Analyzing and maximize de-duplicated reach of an advertiser’s target audience and manage global frequency across direct and automated ad buys.
  • A seamless workflow to track and traffic both campaigns and data from Flashtalking’s ad server to Adobe Advertising Cloud’s DSP, and vice versa.
  • Connecting online engagement to offline conversions, including sales, store visits and brand lift.

This partnership gives both parties’ clients the ability to activate the other’s capabilities in a collaborative effort that they hope will help disrupt the status quo. (See chart from Datanyze below.)

Google has garnered the lion’s share of online spend—it commands 37.1 percent of the U.S. digital ad market according to eMarketer—in part through the pass-back of what has been known as ‘the DoubleClick ID.’

Media buyers are then able to use this to verify the effectiveness of campaign spend by using it to gauge metrics such as clickthrough rates (CTR).

However, as regulators increasingly double-down on consumer data privacy, Google has rescinded this data pass-back as part of its GDPR compliance preparations earlier this year. Similar policy moves preventing third parties from accessing data from within the industry’s walled gardens have been made because such players have vast amounts of PII data given through their consumer-facing propositions.

“It’s clear that if you’re a business that handles PII data, you have to put protocols in place to prevent data leaks,” said Wayne Blodwell, CEO of The Programmatic Advisory. “The fines are too damaging not to. However, that doesn’t mean you ignore industry-wide initiatives around encryption or data passing.”

He added that in the short-term, “it may be seen as a commercial win, but it’s fundamentally anti-competitive and leverages a monopolistic state that has a shelf life, and the fines and repercussions will be far worse.”

Speaking recently with financial analysts, Jeff Green, CEO of DSP The Trade Desk, voiced such a theory. He added that his ad-tech company is in a more liberated position to help advertisers, as such platforms don’t possess PII because they don’t have search engines or social networks.

Similar to how Adobe and Flashtalking paired, this is the reason why The Trade Desk launched its own Unified ID Solution, as it can pass such an ID back to clients struggling in the wake of Google’s policy changes.

@ronan_shields Ronan Shields is a programmatic reporter at Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.