Clean Rooms Are Not the Solution for a Cookieless Future

But they do play a key role

Anyone who has hung around digital marketing for any amount of time has likely noticed a familiar storyline when it comes to the evolution of marketing and ad-tech solutions.

It goes something like this: A marketplace shift threatens the industry status quo. A new category of solution emerges as the purported antidote to said threat. Options proliferate. Tech titans roll out their own more-comprehensive solutions to the threat. The new category recedes into the background noise of the industry.

Along this journey for any given solution, there will first be headlines heralding the category as the industry’s savior, then a period of explainer pieces for making the most of the category and finally—inevitably—a batch of headlines decreeing the “death of” the exact same category.

It’s sensational but predictable, and at the moment, data clean rooms are entering into that final phase of the cycle, particularly as Google and Amazon roll out new solutions to augment the space.

What are marketers to take away from this continual rise and fall of categories within the industry? Let’s use the current example of clean rooms to illuminate the unchanging marketing reality that underpins these common storylines.

The data clean room evolution

Data clean rooms have been around for years, most notably in their earlier days as a way for the largest tech platforms to pass ad effectiveness insights back to their largest advertisers without giving up data core to their competitive differentiation.

In recent years, however, the independent clean room category has emerged, expanded and evolved as a key tool in the arsenal of advertisers and publishers looking to combat the effects of third-party cookie deprecation.

The goal of the clean room is simple: to give companies a way to share their first-party data with each other in a way that unlocks new insights without running afoul of privacy regulations or losing control of customer data that’s core to their businesses. Independent clean rooms gained traction to help advertisers reach beyond walled gardens’ clean room offerings, which were designed to enhance understanding on those platforms alone.

But now, the category is coming full circle, with both Google and Amazon rolling out solutions designed to give advertisers and publishers additional tools for securely sharing data. Specifically, Google PAIR “gives publishers and advertisers the option to securely and privately reconcile their first-party data for audiences who have visited both an advertiser’s and a publisher’s site,” while AWS Clean Rooms let companies “create a secure data clean room in minutes and collaborate with any other company in the AWS Cloud to generate unique insights about advertising campaigns, investment decisions, clinical research and more.”

In other words, the clean room space is getting dirtier, and it’s going to be up to each individual advertiser and publisher to pinpoint the combination of approaches that makes the most sense for them when it comes to securely sharing data to unlock insights. Therein lies further evidence of a truth that comes back to our industry every time a new category of ad tech rises to prominence.

The demand for interoperability

Ultimately, the story of the evolution of clean rooms, as well as other solutions and tools that have come forth as a means of solving for a cookieless world, lead back to the same conclusion: Today’s digital marketing landscape demands interoperability.

There is no one solution, no one tactic, no one path forward that is going to get marketers and publishers where they need to go. The true “solution” to a cookieless world is going to look different for every player within the ecosystem, and that simple fact demands interoperability above all else.

There’s no question that first-party data will continue to serve as the foundation for true audience understanding in a cookieless world. But first-party data on its own is not enough when it comes to the need to understand your audience in a multidimensional way, nor is it enough to fuel the kind of prospecting activities needed to sustain growth.

The industry requires tools, data sets and platforms that can help companies deepen their knowledge of their audiences, find other audiences like them and, importantly, connect that understanding across platforms and devices at a global scale.

There’s room for a lot of pieces in the ad-tech puzzle of the future. What’s important is that marketers also have the means of putting those pieces together and enriching them in a global, ID-agnostic way to make audiences truly addressable across the digital ecosystems.

Clean rooms aren’t the solution to a cookieless world, but they are a part of it. Prioritizing interoperability within your data sets and ad-tech stack will ensure the promise of clean rooms and other solutions can be leveraged to the greatest extent possible.

Kristina Prokop is co-founder and CEO at Eyeota, the global leader in audience data. For nearly 20 years, Kristina has been on the forefront of digital marketing and online advertising in Europe, bringing new advertising technologies and business models to market.