Myths About Addressable Advertising

There is a ton of confusion swirling around the topic of addressable advertising at the moment. Specifically, there’s confusion around what can replace the loss of cross-publisher IDs. Fortunately, it’s easy to make sense of the chaos. In this blog, we’ll explain how each alternative will support marketers’ advertising effectiveness. 

Contextual targeting

Let’s begin with contextual targeting. 

The notion that contextual offerings can replace the loss of IDs for addressability is misguided. Contextual targeting is very useful in improving how marketers match content to consumers. But it offers nothing in the way of measurement. If marketers can’t accurately measure their campaigns then they can’t do their job. 

Contextual targeting only delivers on engagement, making it an incomplete replacement at best.


A second proposal often mentioned is the use of encrypted emails. Many large publishers require people to authenticate or sign-in to their web properties. The email associated with “logging-in” can be used to generate a consistent, cross-site identifier. The problem with the alternative is that it doesn’t scale across the web. 

Sure, some of the larger publishers like the New York Times or the Washington Post will be able to use authentication because they are established brands with sizable existing audiences. 

But what about the small publishers who make up the long tail of the web? Well, they’ll get crushed operating under an authentication model. As the New York Times’ Senior Vice President of Ad Innovation, Allison Murphy, notes:

“While [authentication is] a differentiator and I’m thrilled about it, this isn’t a path available for every publisher, especially not local who don’t have the scale of resources for building from scratch.”  

More importantly, an authentication approach won’t work for most major brands. As an example, consider Nike, one of the most iconic, consumer-facing businesses in the world. Nike won’t require visitors to type in their email address. But without that email identifier to provide view-through attribution, Nike can’t measure their campaign results across publishers, even if they use authenticated targeting on the publisher sites themselves. 

Marketer’s only get to see what’s working and what isn’t in a world where cross-publisher IDs exist. In that world, Nike can conduct addressable, authenticated, people-based targeting across publisher websites, then measure campaign performance in an unauthenticated, “logged-out” state. 

In summary, authentication remains a partial solution. It will not help with measurement or optimization without the existence of cross-publisher IDs.  

Aggregate reporting APIs are often mentioned as a replacement for the real-time feedback loops marketers’ programmatic buying platforms use today. Some OS providers suggest providing reporting APIs with a built in 24-48 hour delay. Yet, given marketers will be wasting their spend proportional to any delay in feedback, the longer the time delay the greater the reduction in effectiveness which leads to lower publisher CPMs.


Last but not least, there are those who would like to replace marketer-specific audiences with generic clusters or “cohorts.” 

Cohorts assign a single audience segment to the browser, while today most browsers belong to thousands of marketer-specific audiences. 

Given millions of people will be in any cohort, they do not offer marketers the ability to understand if any of the people in a given cohort who saw advertising ever arrived at their website or store. 

Cohorts also cannot answer reach, frequency, or effectiveness questions. Marketers need those answers to allocate their budgets or change the prices they pay. The “95% claim” often repeated in the press resulted from a cohort experiment where the real-time machine learning of the DSP was allowed to use cookies to determine when to talk to a given browser belonging to a specific cohort in a given context as well as to calculate what price to pay. 

The truth about cookies and cross-pub IDs

Cookies aren’t perfect.

There are discrepancies between the buy side and the sell side related to counting systems that create problems. 

A common cross-publisher ID will eliminate these discrepancies. It will make life better for both buyers, sellers, and consumers. It will do all this by making it easier for auditors to hold bad actors accountable. 

Leading this charge is the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media. This organization was created by the Association of National Advertisers (which consists of the world’s largest brands such as Procter and Gamble or Disney). 

PRAM and ANA support Addressable Advertising

Those advertisers are concerned about their ability to engage consumers without cross-publisher IDs. Instead of being able to reach consumers through any number potential publishers, they’ll be forced to choose to go through walled gardens. 

To learn more about this issue, please read Zeta’s blog: Explaining the Turbulence Around Addressability.


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