The two most influential data events of 2018 were the introduction of the GDPR and the Facebook/Cambridge Analytics data scandal.   

In late 2015, EU administrators began to actively target data reform. They introduced the GDPR, or General Data Protection Regulation,  to ensure that “people have more control over their personal data” while promoting “a level playing field” for businesses.  

Affecting everything from backend data storage to email marketing opt-ins, GDPR went into effect in May 2018. Instead of targeting only EU companies, GDPR guidelines applied to any business serving EU customers—in other words, virtually every international business on Earth.  

In March, Facebook responded to GDPR compliance concerns by shutting down its Partner Categories feature, which enabled third-party data collectors to sell their data for the use of audience targeting. Reliant primarily on Facebook data to increase the quality of ad targeting, BlueKai and DataLogix were among the companies affected by the shutdown. 

It wouldn’t be the last we’d hear from Facebook in 2018 

Major international news sources reported that the political firm Cambridge Analytica had acquired up to 87 million Facebook users’ data without their knowledge using a simple quiz app. Instead of harvesting only the data provided by quiz-takers, the firm took advantage of Facebook’s lenient data policies to harvest information from all of the Facebook friends connected to each quiz-taker.  

Facebook immediately came under fire from users  (#deletefacebook) as well as news sources and watchdog groups for perpetuating privacy protection that seemed flimsy at best and nonexistent at worst. Facebook responded to the scandal by publishing an apology from founder Mark Zuckerberg as well as a list of changes with the stated intention of closing data loopholes on the platform 

Companies charged with safeguarding user data continued to crash in burn in 2018, with breaches and scandals ranging from military personnel data leaks to terabytes of exposed information on millions of Americans—and then more than a billion consumers in India. 

Consumer Protection Laws on the Rise…So What Does That Mean for Advertising 

With the very similar California Consumer Privacy Act soon to take effect, companies have no choice but to play an active role in compliance and data management —but that doesn’t mean the death of effective advertising. A few post-2018 trends to note 

  • Contextual advertising. Why wouldn’t businesses want to place their ads on sites that are relevant to their products or services? Advertisers use contextual advertising to ensure that consumers get more relevant ads, often through keyword targeting—and businesses get higher clickthrough rates.  
  • The death of cookie-based ads. A full 75% of mobile devices reject cookies, which means marketers can no longer reliably use these small parcels of information about browsing habits and digital activity to track and target consumers and instead have to get creative to build custom audiences. Speaking of which… 
  • The rise of audience-based and people-based targeting. This post-2018 marketing reality involves targeting consumers using real-time, highly relevant email and social registration data to form a complete picture of their habits, interests, and behaviors. 

These shifts are a boon for advertisers. After all, if you have a choice between targeting “an 18- to 35-year-old female who lives in Dallas” or “a 37-year-old female who lives in Dallas with her husband and two children who is loyal to Starbucks and loves the History Channel,” which would you choose?  (Read more about how to sell audience-based email packages here).

Google Marketing Platform and Quality  

Advertisers aren’t just buying and tracking impressions and clicks anymore: while securing views remains a priority for many publishers, it isn’t the only metric advertisers are tracking and promoting.  

Released in mid-2018, Google Marketing Platform is becoming a must-have hub for advanced reporting and attribution tools. The platform enables advertisers and agencies to track viewability but also dive deeper, learning if their ad stayed on your website, delivered an above-average reach, targeted a high-quality audience group, or contributed to a conversion (and how).  

Even with simple tagging in place, advertisers can easily take advantage of a wide range of deep analytics. What else the platform delivers:  

  • With Active View inside the Campaign Manager, Google displays Viewable Impression Reach. Use this tool to discover how many unique users saw a campaign, if the associated impressions were “viewable,” and over how many seconds users viewed the campaign.  
  • Campaign Manager’s Multi-Channel Conversion Visualizer tracks conversions and assisted conversions plus first user interactions, top conversion paths, and path lengths.  

Gone are the days of initiating an under-delivering campaign and maximizing its frequency just to hit a certain impression goal. Advertisers are wizening up and demanding not just quantity, but quality, transparency, and trackable ROI served up with their ad spend—and they’re willing to pay more for it. Much more. 

P.S. Another great post-2018 development: Adpoint can now push programmatic guaranteed campaigns straight to GAM and process third-party data (looking at you, Google Marketing Platform!) within its analytics suite. 

Diving Deeper: Audience-Based Selling 

One way that publishers can ensure they are providing successful, results-driven campaigns is by taking full advantage of the bloom of audience-based selling. Advertisers have been shifting towards this buying approach not just to increase performance but also to harness the unprecedented transparency that it can deliver.  

Let’s say you are a local automotive dealership with $15,000 to spend on your big Year-End Sale event. You’ve created an awesome 15-second video ad to promote it, and you don’t necessarily care if the video displays on YouTube, as a pre-roll ad on your website (or as a programmatic guaranteed pre-roll), as a feature on your app, or even as a Connected TV ad. What you do care about is getting your video seen by the audience most likely to buy a vehicle—such as auto intenders who have leases expiring soon and live within 25 miles of your dealership.   

Multi-channel, audience-based campaigns can be huge revenue drivers for publishersafter all, they can increase the cost knowing that they will be able to use this strategy to deliver true quality, not quantity, regarding impressions and views. But the data lessons of 2018 aren’t going anywhere: to execute effective audience-based campaigns, publishers must invest in the right data partners and commit to understanding their own first-party data.  

Onward and Upward 

Whether you consider firstparty, thirdparty, cookie-based, or people-and audience-based data, the rules are the same. With 2020 looming, advertisers and publishers remain squarely inside the confines of an era of strict regulation that will continue to make data a hot topic in the years to come.  

As members of the digital advertising industry, we have a responsibility to adapt and adhere to these new standards. In return, we’ll enjoy the benefits of increased data transparency and responsible privacy regulation.  While we may collect less data, the data we do collect is higher quality. We are, finally, practicing what we preach regarding valuing quality over quantity.  

With clean, fresh data from users who are mindfully opting in and receptive to messaging from advertisers, smaller data pools reflect a much more captivated audience. Combined with people-based data, new tactics will enforce a selling approach that exceeds advertiser expectations.