Navigating Search and Social in a Cookie-less Future
As the age of the cookie marches towards its end, we’ve been analyzing, prognosticating and planning for the future of digital advertising. Here, we take a look specifically in the search and social space to dissect how the tactics and technology will be changing in the near future.

What is cookie-based tracking?

Cookies are files that websites save onto user devices (basically, anything that connects to the internet). At its genesis, cookies allowed consumers a user-friendly experience because they remember passwords for customers, and they don’t delete items in shopping carts when the customer exits the web browser. Marketing platforms, Agencies and Brands use them to determine what their audience’s interests are based on browsing activity, purchases and preferences. Over the years, cookies have evolved significantly, helping improve customer experience while also allowing businesses to garner hordes of customer info.

Before long, though, cookies were leveraged for media tactics and targeting. Because of their unmistakable ties to personal data, legislation emerged first in Europe to protect said data and begin regulating how companies could and could not use it. Shortly thereafter, California and other U.S. states began debating and adopting similar legislation. These laws require businesses to disclose to customers what information they collect and how they use it, which is why many websites now provide disclosures to users when they enter a website. There is also a social implication that is being enacted by Apple with IOS14 updates that are imminent and now eminent. Simply put, this update will severely limit targeting and tracking within apps.

How will it impact Search and Social?

To future proof, companies will want to look for a partner that has the ability to tap into their preferred partner platforms (Social and Search), work with the brand’s Customer Data Platform and be able to ingest offline data to tie all the data back together. While this seems like a last step, it is not. Now brands will need to put in place reporting and testing that can show the incrementality to the overall marketing efforts to capture any activity that cannot be tracked. While search and social have positioned themselves as the best way to increase sales online, the need for incrementality testing becomes significantly more critical. Through the years we have learned through testing that those claims were made without taking into consideration the many touchpoints along the way. Consumer journeys are not linear. In essence, the last click model is flawed and does not give credit to other media types.

From a search and social standpoint, brands will need to include Data Management Platforms that will be able to bring all platforms like Google, Facebook and Pinterest into an ecosystem that will streamline Analytics, CRM and Call Center partners together to marry offline and online data.

From a buying standpoint, this will change how we approach search and social. At first, it may seem like the calendar is flipping back to the days before micro-targeting and heavy tracking. In the future there will be some tracking through first-party data but search and social will have to make leaps towards even more measurement, broader targeting and artificial intelligence from vendors and MarTech partners. Brand should also prepare to see cost increases on cost pers and ROAS.

The data that will need to be tracked cannot rely on platforms to pass the traditional information the industry has relied on with cookies or URL redirects. What will need to be crafted is an anonymized ID that is attributed to a target audience within the Customer Data Platform and then matched back to internal client data to learn what partners and audience tactics are working in conjunction with testing.

With the rise of machine learnings and need to feed the beast, partners have been communicating to take steps back from micro targeting and open up targeting to consumers in their contextual environments. This approach doesn’t require the use of tracking data. Instead, it matches advertisements with the content or a point in time during consumer’s research.

Search teams have had a head start thinking about this issue from the initial ITP announcement by Apple in early 2019 and the evolution and updates to ITP. This did not impact social due to advertising being within the social app because ITP changes started removing the tracking from URLs.

Contextual ads match the content that a webpage is presenting and, as a result, do not disrupt the customer experience. For example, if a consumer has been served a video in a social platform, then an advertisement for a coffee maker may appear on the webpage.

The final piece is to ensure that websites and apps are following all the requirements by law or by marketing vendor. This will need to be managed across web and mobile on an organic level.

What should brands and agencies do?

The community will have plenty to think through when crafting their marketing plans: which MarTech partners to Ieverage, investment in proprietary solutions, and future proofing more changes on the horizon. Let’s face it, search and social will continue to evolve. Now, it’s simply in a new direction. Here are some guiding tips:

  1. Think full funnel. Even though you are tasked with ROAS goals for all your marketing dollars, some of those marketing dollars are going to have to go towards building the audiences either through app download campaigns, a loyalty offer or organic website offers (like discounts that can be helped with second- and third-party audiences).
  2. Leverage existing partnerships. What partnerships can be leveraged from existing relationships that a brands can use to increase 1P targeting?
  3. Lean on marketing partners. Their ability to leverage look-a-like audiences that are customized for the brand outside of walled gardens will be valuable.

At this point there is no singular solution from MarTech companies. Each group from MarTech, Agencies and Brands are all consulting on best steps forward. Brands and Agencies will have to put plans in place by July to have a seamless solution prior to the holiday season while taking IOS14 limitations into account. Thankfully for you, we’re already on it.

Navigating Ratings Erosion in Linear TV
Ratings erosion in Linear TV is becoming an increasingly problematic factor for networks and their Upfront commitments to advertisers. But those who see the bigger picture in video consumption can take advantage and come out on top.

It’s now 2021, and many people (including experts) have said for years that TV is dying – and that it’s been dying for a long time. From the decline in network and program ratings we’ve been seeing, especially recently, that might seem like the simplest conclusion. But what’s actually happening – and what has been brewing for the past few years – isn’t that at all. What’s happening today is a phenomenon that more closely resembles the birth of TV than the death of it. People haven’t been moving away from the living room; they have been expanding it.

While it’s true that time spent with Linear TV has steadily declined for the average US consumer in the past few decades, minutes with overall video and TV-quality content are actually on the rise. This is largely fueled by growth in Connected TV devices, new streaming sources of premium TV content (OTT), and smartphone apps that can bring TV content with you wherever you go. For consumers, there is no more distinction between Linear TV, OTT, CTV and FEP content – there is only TV-quality video content that they want to access and watch. So, what does this mean for the current state of TV? Let’s take a look at a few truths in video in 2021:

  • TV content is now device agnostic. People are watching full length programming on their TV, tablet, desktop, and mobile device.
  • TV content is now source agnostic. Consumers don’t care if they’re watching the latest episode of This Is Us live on NBC’s broadcast station, streaming it live through the app on Apple TV, or catching it the next day through Hulu. All of this can be done on the TV in the living room, and can be accessed however and whenever consumers want it.
  • Consumers now have more options to access TV content than ever before, and they will choose to access it in the way that works best for them, largely based on price, content preferences, and ad (or ad-free) options.

Through services like Netflix, Hulu, Roku, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube TV, the TV network FEPs and others, consumers have now found cheaper, more on-demand ways of accessing the exact same content that Linear TV offers – plus loads of extra premium TV quality content that Linear TV doesn’t. And while overall video consumption continues to increase, 35.5 million households in the US are expected to be classified as “Cord-Cutter Households” in 2021. This is expected to grow significantly over the next 5 years, reaching 46.6 million by 2024.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend, making consumers even more hungry for new content to access and binge. While broadcast networks have struggled with production delays, streaming platforms have filled that void with their dense catalogs. This has had a steep impact on TV ratings recently, with the four major broadcast networks showing ratings declines at the end of 2020 much greater than previously anticipated.

From a December 2020 MediaPost article:

This gets us to a central question: How can advertisers take advantage of these consumption shifts in TV and video? Thinking about video holistically has been a growing push within the advertising industry for a few years. The idea that less lines need to be drawn between TV, CTV, OTT, OLV, and even other forms of media is not that new. But now, it’s become necessary. For advertisers with 2020/2021 TV spend commitments, several TV networks are missing the mark on weekly, monthly, or quarterly GRP delivery for partners, and they are struggling to find the available GRPs that will make the commitments whole. Linear TV frequency continues to rise, and Linear TV reach continues to decline. There are continually fewer rating points to go around, yet the price of a new rating point only goes up because of supply and demand.

But here’s the 2021 solution: there is actually a whole wave of exactly the same “supply” that exists beyond traditional rating points.

If we boil a rating point down to its fundamental core, it’s simply a collection of impressions – a percentage of an audience universe that equates to a certain amount of eyeballs in a given demographic that has seen the associated content. As an advertiser, if I can reach who I’m trying to reach on exactly the same screen and in exactly the same show, do I care if it was delivered through a broadcast airwave, a cable, a satellite signal, or the internet? For whatever reason, many of us do – maybe it’s a stigma, maybe it’s old or unproven data, maybe it’s the fear of something personally untested or the fear of shaking up what’s been good for business in the past. But here are the facts: The consumer is having exactly the same content experience, and the advertiser is still reaching exactly who they intended, in exactly the content they intended.

So, if you’re an advertiser with Linear TV Upfront commitments that’s seeing GRP under-delivery this year, know that you are not alone. But also know that you should not be afraid to accept a one-for-one OTT or FEP make-good if a network offers one. If it’s the same content, demographic and 1:1 from an impression perspective, in many cases you should actually be pushing for that scenario over the linear make-goods, and here are three reasons why:

  1. The average CPM associated with an OTT buy is higher than for an equitable linear TV buy. Despite never wanting to see the under-delivery in the first place, if you have the opportunity to swap one linear TV impression with one OTT/FEP impression in the same content and with the same demo, you’re actually getting an upgrade from a dollar perspective (i.e. it would cost more to buy that OTT/FEP schedule than you spent on the missed linear TV GRPs).
  2. OTT/FEP impressions are more targeted and more measurable than Linear TV, which means potentially less waste and more ROI for your business, plus better data for future learnings and optimizations.
  3. You are very likely decreasing duplication in your buy and significantly increasing your reach. You’re now reaching non-cord-cutters through the original buy, plus reaching the cord-cutters and cord-nevers through your OTT/FEP makegood, all of whom still fall within your target audience.

Similarly, if you’re a TV advertiser who is in the scatter or DR marketplace, or is considering an upfront commitment in 2021/2022, know that Linear TV ratings are going to continue to decline, but also know that you can get ahead of it. You can:

  1. Map out your optimal video allocations across Linear TV and OTT/CTV/FEP based on the most up-to-date time spent data and landscape realities for your target, your objective, and the projected impact to your business. For example, if the objective is awareness against your target audience and you have $X budget, you should be running R/F scenarios of varying spend allocation mixes for Linear TV + OTT at $X spend to understand how your reach increases or diminishes at tiered percent allocations.
  2. Explore holistic or impression guarantees with TV partners. Whether it’s national or local, network or MVPD, there are avenues for buys across Linear TV and OTT/FEP. This can mitigate any potential under-delivery that could arise as a result of future ratings erosion and may actually increase the reach and value of your overall buy.
  3. Create a measurement and optimization framework to manage buys differently than you have when it’s only been Linear TV. For example, you can create rules or standards to optimize throughout the flight by tweaking allocations to the OTT vs Linear TV impressions based on performance, or to optimize across networks or programming (depending on how your buy is structured).

The reality is that the video landscape is going to continue to change, and that change is going to progressively come faster than it has in the past. It’s inevitable. The advertisers who can continue to leverage that change and lean into it with eyes open – who can turn under-delivery into an upgrade – are the ones who are going to maintain a competitive advantage over the ones who are inclined to stick with “what has always worked.”


Preparing for a Cookieless Future
There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of conversation and press around cookies, mobile IDs, privacy, and privacy regulation surrounding digital advertising.

The news and the urgency around the news will come and go in fits and spurts. Here, we’ll explore a more relaxed view of what is coming, (approximately) when it’s coming, and what steps advertisers can take to future-proof their businesses.

First things first, cookies are going away. Apple is forcing dramatic changes to their version of the mobile ID (IDFA). Much of the digital world has been built, and currently operates, on cookies and mobile IDs. They are the infrastructure that enable most modern marketing digital advertising capabilities:

  • Retargeting
  • Targeting with 3rd party data
  • Controlling targeting based on consumer recency
  • Frequency controls
  • Message sequencing
  • Lookalike modeling
  • Measurement & attribution of digital advertising
  • Algorithmic optimization
  • Insight generation against 3rd party data sets

All of the above are “at-risk” capabilities with the changing digital infrastructure. It might read like an apocalyptic thrust back to the dark ages, but understand:

  1. The changes in digital infrastructure are a dimmer switch, not an off switch. In fact, the digital infrastructure that helps us meet the capabilities listed above have been evolving consistently for years.
  2. There will be ways to maintain the capabilities powered by cookies, mobile IDs, and other shifting infrastructure. The mechanisms will be different, but the end results will be the same – just a more complex way to get there.

The Dimmer Switch is Slowly Fading on Unconsented Digital Tracking

The reason for all these shifts is rooted in the constant march toward greater and greater consumer choice and control. It is because of progress, and it is hard—and unwise—to bet against progress over time. Here is some high-level perspective to help set appropriate urgency.

  1. Cookies. Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox have been adding tracking prevention and blocking many cookies in their browsers for years. Google’s Chrome, the largest browser in the U.S., will be sunsetting cookies at some point in 2022.
  2. Mobile IDs. Apple, at about 60% mobile phone share in the U.S., will require consumers to explicitly opt-in to collecting and sharing their data for advertising purposes, likely this Spring. We expect low, but some, adoption. Google’s Android, with roughly the other 40% share of the U.S. mobile phone market, has made no such announcements yet.
  3. Regulation. CCPA is the largest regulation in effect in the U.S. and there is a patchwork of other state legislation as well (Nevada, Maine, others being drafted). There is general industry desire for federal (versus state-by-state) regulation to make adherence less complicated and costly for business. We believe more regulation will slowly become reality first in a few additional states and later federally. Timing is uncertain.
  4. Technical Workarounds. There are technical workarounds, like “fingerprinting,” that can achieve many of the same results in capability as cookies or mobile IDs. Ultimately, we believe these efforts will be short-lived without the ability to gain consumer consent and offer consumer control. Major technology players, namely Google and Apple, are actively working against and recommending against using these types of workarounds.

What the Future Looks Like

Our belief is that the future will feature more and larger walled gardens. The major platforms and publishers will have their own solutions to replicate at-risk digital capabilities within their individual walled garden. They will be able to offer them because of their explicit consumer consent and persistent IDs across devices (logged-in users). Here is a visual:

In this future, it seems very likely that the (formerly) “open” web will look and feel like its own walled garden. The persistent IDs within that ecosystem might be browser-based, might be driven by an industry consortium, or might be an interchangeable set of anonymized identity currencies coming together in a plug-and-play type environment. Yes, a lot is still in motion on this front.

Overall, it is worth noting the accelerating trend toward more walled gardens. On the consumer side, people are spending more and more time inside of walled gardens versus the open web. According to Nielsen Media Institute data, the share of consumer time spent in walled gardens (like Facebook, Google, YouTube, Snapchat, etc.) is stealing 2-4% of that total time from the “open web” each year. We expect a hockey stick of growth on that front this year, with walled garden time surpassing open web time and never looking back. That’s due to consumer behavior, but also because of the open web properties converting to walled gardens themselves.

On the content side, streaming services from major video media companies (Discovery, NBC Universal, Disney, etc.) and ring-fenced content from major print media companies (Meredith, Conde Nast, Hearst, etc.) are some of the latest walled gardens on the scene, each with the ability to require logged-in experiences across the many different access points to their content brands.

What Advertisers Can Do

There are two main areas to focus efforts on as the dimmer switch fades:

  1. Reprioritize contextual advertising – where the context of the user’s media experience serves as the bridge to that consumer’s state-of-mind.
  2. Build up the depth and breadth of 1st party assets, specifically gaining consumer consent to tracking and using their data.

Contextual Advertising is “In-the-Moment” Behavioral Advertising

There will be a rightful resurgence of contextual targeting. Pretend an advertiser sells basketball shoes. Rather than using behavioral targeting segments of “basketball interest” or “in-market for basketball shoes” to follow them around with basketball shoe advertising, contextual advertising would find specific content (articles, images, videos, audio clips) about basketball and put ads in and around that specific content.

It’s a simple concept that feels like a relic of the past, but technology is making this easier to do at scale and across formats (text, image, and audio/video). It’s smart to have a focus here on what is possible now and coming soon to the space.

Contextual advertising can help find the right consumers in a relevant place, but it falls short of replacing other important digital capabilities – specifically, measurement or attribution.

First-Party Data Re-enables the Full Set of Digital Capabilities

1st party data from website visitors, app users, and customer lists (CRM) will be critical to the future capability of each individual advertiser. 1st party data will work like a currency, enabling the secure comparison of audiences from the advertiser to other publishers, platforms, panels, or other advertisers. With this 1st party data currency, the full set of digital capabilities are reborn in new and potentially differentiating way for the advertiser.

Your 1st Party Data will individually plug into each walled garden, as shown below. It will also enable some digital capabilities across gardens – like measurement/attribution, setting frequency ceilings or recency controls, and orchestrating consumer message sequencing.

Impact to Measurement

The future of measurement without cookies and device IDs might end up being more accurate than the ways of the past. There are three main areas of focus.

  1. Projections. As the dimmer switch fades on old digital infrastructures, the (false) promise of the past – that every conversion can be counted individually – will be replaced by a world of machine learning and conversion projections to fill in the blanks on untrackable audiences.
  2. Sandboxes. Many of the “walled gardens” will have their own sandboxes or clean rooms to play in. These environments will be good for understanding performance and audience insights within those individual walled gardens. They will largely ignore the need to also understand impact from other ads shown to those same audiences outside of their walled garden.
  3. 1st Party Data. 1st party data will be the ultimate source for leveling the playing field across different walled gardens’ projection math and sandbox environments. By controlling the 1st party audiences sent into each walled garden, advertisers can measure the impact coming from each walled garden, both against one another and against a control.

The Future Shows Promise

Progress toward personal consent and control is driving significant change and complexity in the worlds of content, technology, regulation, and advertising. Over the course of this year and next, advertisers will have the requirement to build or re-build some new muscle memory. Specifically, there should be a focus on contextual advertising partnerships/capabilities and building up 1st party data assets. Doing those two things well will mitigate much of the risk imposed by the evolutions underway in digital advertising.
We believe that the mid-term future (2-5 years) will be very complex, requiring sophisticated orchestration of 1st party data assets across numerous walled garden media environments.

Looking beyond that, we believe that this complexity will eventually lead to a greater and simpler future – a future of convergence. Thus, we’re referring to it as Advertising’s Great Convergence, where the same progressive forces driving the changes in technology today will empower new technologies that pull everything together in a bigger, better, easier way in the future. More to come on Advertising’s Great Convergence in future articles. Stay tuned!

Apple’s iOS 14 Update May Radically Change Your Facebook Campaign
There’s always some hubbub when Apple updates their iOS.

Usually, any clamor surrounds new emojis or UX tweaks. This time, for iOS 14, there’s a lot more on the line that will directly impact the way advertisers are able to market on apps and mobile devices.

The crux of Apple’s update—and the flurry of discourse surrounding it—is the requirement that all apps in the app store prompt users in accordance with their App Tracking Transparency framework. In other words, this is creating a limitation on data sharing. In particular, the update has substantial implications on buying objectives, audience targeting and measurement on Facebook.

To help see through the flurry, much of which is still spinning, we are working with Facebook and other partners to better understand the changes and be at the forefront of the latest developments and solutions.

Despite the uncertainty, there is valuable information that we do know.

Advertisers will be limited to eight (8) conversion events per domain, depending on how the domain is set up for different regions. Check out this graphic:

  • If your global domain structure is set up like the one on the left or right, this will mean that your website will only be able to track 8 items on the website. This includes things like Searches, Purchases, Add to Carts, and Submitting an Application. Facebook pixels will still be able to track one event on iOS users who opt-out of tracking, but the event that is tracked will be determined by how you prioritize these conversion events within Facebook’s Aggregated Event Measurement tool. Keep in mind that each custom conversion does count as a separate event. Consider prioritizing events based on a “bottom-up” approach, with your lowest funnel events at the top, in an effort to not waste the 1 event being tracked on a user just visiting a product page.
  • If you’re set up like the middle domain structure, you will be able to track 8 events per pixel installed on the website. You will still need to set your event prioritization for each pixel that is installed.

Another change to note is Facebook’s attribution window, which is now being reduced to a 1-Day View and 7-Day Click. Currently, Facebook uses a default attribution window of 1-Day View and 28-Day Click, so this will affect tracking in-platform performance, especially for brands who offer products that have a longer purchase journey. To prepare for the change, brands should look at their historical campaign data and analyze the differences between attribution windows to help inform new benchmarks based on the smaller window.

There are a few unknowns at the moment. For one, when the prompt is implemented. This will be the threshold between the way things were and the way things will be. Right now, we’re anticipating this to take place in early spring. Monitoring opt-in rates will be an intriguing story. This will let us know the degree of impact and can help quantify the update. For now, anticipate website retargeting audiences to decrease to some degree once the update is live.

Facebook has been the loudest in its opposition to the updates, but this will surely impact other digital advertisers as well. Regardless of the players and their feelings, Empower is staying ready for the game ahead.

Featured in PR Daily: Five Influencer Marketing Predictions for 2021

Last year saw some momentous shifts in influencer marketing, from the booming popularity of TikTok to the overwhelming online movements for social justice. Our word of mouth marketing team says these trends are undoubtedly here to stay. But these aren’t the only tenets to consider for your 2021 influencer strategy, so we broke down our five predictions for influencer marketing this year.

  1. Micro and Nano Influencers Will Continue to Steal Share from Macro Influencers
  2. Authenticity Reigns Supreme
  3. Taking a Stand is Essential
  4. Representation

Visit PR Daily for the full article by Senior Director of Word of Mouth Marketing, Lauren McNutt.