The era of free-flowing data on the Internet has passed. There is a new reality, and we all have to adapt to that, according to Danish market leader JP/Politikens Hus. By now, most people have heard of Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), which blocks third-party cookies, thereby preventing all ad targeting to Apple users.
Yet so far, it seems that the news media industry has not truly acknowledged the consequences of ITP. Instead, it has chosen to simply look away and hope for the best. In countries with a lower iPhone penetration, the position has been that the issue was not of significant magnitude — but that may be about to change.
Firefox is now implementing similar policies, which has caught the attention of the German market where Firefox is a dominant browser, signaling yet another step towards a world without third-party data.
Denmark is an Apple-dominant country, with 60% of users and 55% of all visits to Ekstra Bladet, the largest Danish news site, coming from a Safari browser. As a result, we already have seen the consequences of blocking third-party cookies. Our experiences should serve as a warning and potentially a guide for other countries and markets.
With 60% of Danish users on Safari, and hence unreachable by targeted advertising, one would think that ITP would be the No. 1 priority for all stakeholders in the market. After all, we have yet to encounter an advertiser willing to sacrifice over half of its target audience by default.
Nevertheless, we typically observe one of two responses, when this topic comes up:
1. The industry will not allow that.
People say there is too much money and too many interests at stake, so they assume surely a solution will be found. Or they believe it’s just a technicality that requires another workaround.
But that is not the reality.
Advertisers are no longer in charge. Apple now calls the shots when it comes to what you can and cannot do in their Safari browser, and the company has made it very clear it will not tolerate third-party tracking. Apple recently published a Tracking Prevention Policy in the company clearly state their views on the matter: “[Third-party tracking] should be prevented by default by Web browsers. These practices are harmful to users because they infringe on a user’s privacy without giving users the ability to identify, understand, consent to, or control them.”
At the same time, Apple takes away any hope it will listen to the advertising industry and make an exception for third-party advertising. The company explicitly mentions “targeted or personalised advertising” and “measuring the effectiveness of advertising” as areas which it is willing to sacrifice, as long as third-party tracking is being used.
And no, Google and its “tech stack” are not spared. This is evident when we analyse campaign data on our own sites. Spending from Google technologies skews heavily away from Safari browsers, as they are simply unable to maintain their IDs and hence unable to target Safari users. Google also made its problems abundantly clear when it launched its own privacy initiative, Privacy Sandbox, in August 2019 with the publication of a blog post that included thinly veiled criticism of “other browsers” (Safari and Firefox) whose privacy initiatives have had “unintended consequences” (read: negative impact on Google’s products and earnings).
Furthermore, the blog post was accompanied by a study in which Google attempted to show how damaging it is to block third-party tracking. This is a well-known lobbying move from Google, which clearly shows Google is feeling pressured.
If this was only a technicality, Google would put its own programmers on the case and have them fix it. That would be easier and cheaper. Yet the company has acknowledged there is no technical workaround that can fix this issue, so now the lobbying and legal forces are being deployed instead.
Furthermore, it is not only Apple’s ITP that challenges the sovereignty of the advertising industry. With the introduction of GDPR, legislation is also joining the battle on privacy and tracking.
Despite a slow start, the European Data Protection Agencies are starting to pay attention to the advertising industry, and by wielding the GDPR, they may prove to be more impactful now than in previous cases. For example, the English data protection agency (ICO) has issued an unusually strongly worded criticism of the digital ecosystem and made it clear that they think the system is “broken and must change.”
Therefore, it is no longer solely up to the advertising industry to determine its own destiny. Clearly, there are strong interests outside the advertising industry working to change business as usual, and they all share a profound distrust and reluctance towards third-party tracking. It is hard to imagine where the solution to the challenges surrounding third-party tracking will come from.
2. Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.
Some in our industry believe that while the ITP is leading us in a dangerous direction, it is not of much concern yet. They view other concerns as more pressing right now and say, “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”
Obviously it is up to each individual or company to asses when they stand close enough to the proverbial bridge. But even now, third-party tracking is heavily challenged, and it already has tangible consequences for the advertising industry in most markets.
Let’s look at some data from Denmark. We ran a series of tests on ekstrabladet.dk to decipher the situation. As previously mentioned, about 60% of the users are on the Safari browser. When we test standard reach campaigns and refrain from applying any form of third-party data, the campaigns reach 40%-60% of Safari browsers, just as expected. However, when we run the same campaigns and add rather simple third-party data points (e.g. gender, age, or frequency) we reach less than 10% of Safari browsers.
We also tested another hypothesis: If third-party tracking is blocked in all Safari browsers, we should see a corresponding decrease in the size of the segments that use third-party data. And sure enough, when we test segments that use first-party data against segments that use third-party data, the first-party segments are consistently 60%-70% larger than the third-party segments.
Therefore for both Safari and Firefox browsers, it is no longer a question of when the demise of third-party cookies will take effect. The effect is here. It is unquestionable, measurable, and surely it must impact the effectiveness of digital campaigns.
The new reality calls for new solutions. As we see it, there are two options to deal with this new reality:
We can rigidly and stubbornly try to prolong an era that in many ways has already ended. We can discard all Safari and Firefox users and only target the diminishing user base where third-party data flows freely (at least for now).
We can accept the new reality, explore what opportunities it brings, and start developing and building new solutions and products.
At Ekstra Bladet and on behalf of JP/Politikens Hus, we have decided not to sit idle. Therefore after dialogue with advertisers and media agencies, JP/Politikens Hus now has launched a new data platform, called Relevance, built by Ekstra Bladet.
This platform delivers relevant target groups based on first-party data and context data to media agencies and advertisers across the Danish national news media sites Ekstra Bladet, Jyllands-Posten, and Politiken. It enables media agencies and advertisers to also reach their target audiences on mobile devices, despite third-party data-blocking in Safari and other browsers.
Relevance is available to all media agencies and advertisers that want to use first-party data for their campaigns through direct and programmatic purchasing channels. Tests show a 70% increase in the size of audiences, and the ability to reach Safari users has more than quadrupled. So now media buyers and advertisers can reach the entire Danish population. Using Relevance does not cost extra. It is an offer to ensure even better effect and quality in advertising.