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Publicis Acquires Citrus
Big news recently, as Publicis acquired retail media platform Citrus.

We detailed how these platforms are typically used in a recent article. The acquisition by Publicis puts a different spin on it.

Beyond the outright purchase of the tech, Publicis has mentioned it plans to use Citrus as a compliment to its identity solution – CORE ID – which was born out of their acquisition of Epsilon. Citrus would fuel the on-site data, while Epsilon would handle off-site, with both connecting via their CORE ID product.

Regardless of how it all plays out, it’s an acquisition meant to a) capitalize on the retail media boom and b) combat the eventual decay of the third-party cookie. Publicis is looking to gain—in the near-term—via sponsored search revenue and—in the long-term—via access to deterministic, first-party data.

What We Know

Citrus Will be a Stand-Alone Product within Publicis
We’ve been told it will sit under Epsilon in the product hub. They already have safeguards in place to firewall their information, with the near-term goal being to grow the product via the roadmap.

The Acquisition Will Advance Citrus’s Product
Having a parent company with deep pockets isn’t a bad thing for a tech company looking to focus on development. Citrus should be able to catch up to the likes of Criteo in relation to functionality and clout in short order. Before this acquisition, that was not a guarantee. Citrus also now has the financial backing to legitimize their “no tech fee” stance to sponsored search. One that differed heavily from Criteo’s “duh, of course there’s a tech fee” approach.

Citrus’ Relationship with Its Clients Won’t Change (Initially)
Advertisers will still be able to buy sponsored search ads through Citrus on their preferred retailer. Publicis will not interrupt those interactions. It could go a lot of different ways in the long-term, but all near-term signs point to maintaining the status quo.

What We Don’t Know

How Data Really Plays into the Arrangement
There’s been chatter around how Publicis will use the data. In reality, though, they’re purchasing ad tech that layers onto a retailer’s site. In the case of Roundel and Citrus, the all-important first-party data is, and always has been, Roundel’s data. A retail media arm like Roundel isn’t in the data sharing business, they’re in the data selling business. Any data connections would presumably be made at the source (i.e. Epsilon partnering with Roundel).

Each Retailer’s Intentions
There had to have been at least some thought put into the duration of the agreement between Citrus and its retailers. The underlying thinking across retail media was platforms like Criteo, Citrus, Quotient and others had a limited shelf life as it relates to the larger retailers. They’re bolt-on technology that could eventually be replaced by the retailer’s in-house efforts. One has to assume Publicis was keen to this, knowing both Amazon and Walmart have built out similar, in-house sponsored search offerings. There was likely some variety of long-term language built into the contract meant to bind Target (and other retailers) to Citrus’ technology.

What’s Next?

Retail media is growing aggressively, especially within the sponsored search realm. Citrus’ retailer roadmap has added 18 retailers thus far this year alone. They’re going to be adding headcount within both sales and development, shoring up their product, and getting ready to capitalize on what is a burgeoning industry.

The only thing that can hold them back in the near-term is the philosophy of their retail partners. When you look at the search offerings of an Amazon or a Walmart, they’re designed to drive spend. They’ve created competition heavy ecosystems (i.e. paid ads in the top listings, no safeguards against conquesting, etc.) that have proven highly successful.

Target’s sponsored search efforts, on the other hand, still focus on the idea of incrementality (only organic listings can own top spots) and safety (no conquesting allowed). These focal points are music to the ears of any advertiser, but as an ad tech company tied to this approach, you have to think Citrus, Criteo, and now Publicis, are hoping for a change of heart from Target.