The 2024 Ad-Tech Battleground: Identity and Politics

It may feel competitive, but failure to collaborate only leads to more fragmentation and inefficiency

As we collectively wade into 2024—crafting budgets, plans and strategies for the year ahead—there are two events for which we must prepare: cookie deprecation and the U.S. elections. If they don’t get their plans in place now, political campaigns and brand advertisers will be left scrambling for impressions in the middle of the $10 billion 2024 election cycle.

The industry has been sounding alarm bells for years now, warning advertisers and publishers that third-party cookies will be a thing of the past and that identity-based solutions are the way forward. After all, when advertisers can’t identify users, they tend to bid 50% less for an impression; as a result, publishers could lose up to $10 billion in ad revenue when third-party cookies are deprecated, per McKinsey.

The challenge is not a lack of awareness, nor is it a lack of preparation—ad-tech groups of all sizes have been working to construct cookieless identity graphs since Google announced the Privacy Sandbox back in 2019. The challenge, rather, is a lack of collaboration within the industry, which is encouraging fragmentation and inciting an absence of meaningful scale for our advertisers and publishers.

This is particularly worrisome in 2024, when the stakes are high and reaching voters is crucial.

As many DSPs can see through bidstream data, cookieless ID volume by a single company is still unstable. No singular graph nor targeting mechanism is going to provide a one-size-fits-all approach. If independent tech providers continue to operate in silos, when third-party cookies vanish, advertisers will be forced to work with each of their partners as though it’s a walled garden—unable to compare data across campaigns and limiting their ability to scale audiences in the advertising ecosystem.

Alternatively, if we rely solely on contextual solutions, we are limiting our deterministic view of the audience. 

With cookies set to fully deprecate in Chrome in the third quarter of 2024—mere weeks before U.S. Election Day—everyone from smaller, niche political campaigns to presidential candidates will be feeling the squeeze, struggling to reach their constituents and voters. When every impression, every touch point and every identifier counts, we cannot rely on unscalable solutions.

In order to truly future-proof the digital advertising ecosystem, it is essential that these disparate efforts are unified under a common vision and framework, one that’s an aggregation of all identity solutions in market to provide advertisers both reach and addressability.

Picture a pyramid, for example. At the top, you have the most granular, deterministic data available, lacking scalability. At the bottom, you have solutions that offer scale but limited accuracy, particularly when it comes to reaching specific voters. The ideal future state involves merging these disparate solutions into one unified and interoperable identifier.

The good news is that some technology shops are collaborating and creating interoperable solutions rapidly and with the election in mind. These synergistic solutions offer accuracy, scale and long-term sustainability for all advertising partners.

Collaborative work is being done to stitch together disparate graphs and match up various identifiers while continuing to deliver contextual targeting opportunities. This allows advertisers to reach key audiences and publishers to monetize their content without disruption, inside and outside the election year.

As the industry adopts a more end-to-end, demand-and-supply model, interoperable identity solutions can and will benefit everyone—but this can only be achieved if we work in tandem. 

Rather than battling it out to create the strongest singular cookieless fix, we should be combining our efforts and playing together in the metaphorical sandbox (not to be confused with the Privacy Sandbox), supporting each other’s products and plans—be they identity- or contextual-based—and collectively delivering reliable solutions to our partners across the ecosystem.

In practice, this looks like an agnostic identity option where advertisers can choose the solution that works best for them. In politics, access to addressable audiences is a necessity to mitigate waste, which is why any platform(s) able to leverage as many ID solutions as possible is the right, requisite, choice.

Failure to collaborate will only lead to fragmentation and inefficiency, ultimately jeopardizing our ability to deliver the high-quality, personalized ad experiences consumers crave.

As the digital advertising landscape transitions away from third-party cookies and ramps up its political focus and spend, cooperation among ad-tech players is not just an option, it’s an imperative. By working together, the industry can ensure a smooth transition to a cookieless future—one that protects and benefits advertisers, publishers and end users alike.

The time for silos is over; the time for collaboration is now.