2021 is shaping up to be a year of investment for everyone in digital marketing, one where I hope we will see an ever-increasing effort across the ecosystem to build a long-term, sustainable foundation for the next decade of growth for all our businesses.

At Criteo we know much of that foundational work will come from deep collaboration across our direct ecosystem of marketers and publishers. To learn how those investments are taking shape at top media owners and their partners, Criteo spoke with five industry leaders to get their take on this pivotal year:

  • Steve Mummey, senior vice president, digital ad revenue and technology, AccuWeather
  • Paul Bannister, chief strategy officer, CafeMedia
  • Rick Welch, VP, head of programmatic advertising, Flipboard
  • Kurt Donnell, president & CEO, Freestar
  • Nola Solomon, vice president, AdSmart programmatic, advanced advertising products and strategy, NBCUniversal

Here is what they had to say on several key topics:

Uncertainty spurs innovation

As history shows, uncertainty often leads to opportunity. There is a great deal to be excited about in 2021 for many of our partners. Whether you’re a traditional web publisher, app-focused or a service provider, the end goals remain the same.

According to Nola Solomon, vice president, AdSmart programmatic, advanced advertising products and strategy, NBCUniversal, “Great opportunity and transformation can come out of uncertain times, and this past year has proven that. From data strategy to collaboration to commercial innovations, there are many key areas that will change the game for the entire industry. I’m most looking forward to collaborating with the wider industry on how we can create solutions for these opportunities and enter a new decade where we blend the best that linear and digital have to offer.”

“Digital advertising is being rebuilt from the ground up, which is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Paul Bannister, chief strategy officer, CafeMedia. The ability to really rethink the way the industry operates and create a better environment for users, publishers and advertisers is something we must take advantage of.”

Meanwhile, Rick Welch, VP, head of programmatic advertising, Flipboard, believes that education is key: “As a mobile-first company, our primary day-to-day challenge has been market education around both ensuring buyers understand the value of this channel as well as understanding how to buy this type of inventory. … We are excited for the money to follow the usage trends more proportionately.”

Key initiatives for 2021

The need for actionable, and therefore valuable, data combined with finding a solution for the future of online identity are front of mind for many. However, we’ve found that every business has two muscles they are flexing to stay ahead this year—one is the ability to adapt and the other is executing on their goals.

According to Kurt Donnell, president and CEO, Freestar, “This is the perfect time for publishers to attempt to build a more meaningful relationship with their users. Most publishers have done a poor job explaining the value exchange of ads for content to their users historically. … Taking a more active approach of informing users will lead to more clarity on the value exchange, and users will feel more inclined to share information.”

Solomon expanded on this, noting her company has “seen massive, accelerated transformation for quite some time now, let alone during this past year. As we all know, consumers are seeking out the content they crave, wherever it may be—they are agnostic to platform, time and medium. … From a technology standpoint, it means that traditional media companies must embrace these changes and transform into a media-technology company that leverages first-party authenticated data and privacy-friendly partnerships that benefit all sides of the advertising ecosystem.”

Steve Mummey, SVP, digital ad revenue and technology, AccuWeather, echoed the value of collaboration heading into the new year. “It’s going to be important for the advertising teams to collaborate and establish even deeper connections with product, content and marketing teams,” he said. “We need to continue to create amazing and useful products and experiences with the understanding that the ability to segment users into meaningful cohorts for advertising purposes is likely going to [drive]the largest share of ad revenue.”

“They are two sides of the same coin,” Bannister said. “In the future, the web will be split between anonymous users and authenticated users. In this paradigm, authenticated users and cohorts are beneficial on their own, but can help educate publishers about the value of their anonymous users. Conversely, publishers’ first-party data can help them not only learn about their anonymous users but have deeper insights on their authenticated traffic as well. It will be a symbiotic relationship between identity and publisher data, and publishers should balance their approach.”

Maintaining users’ trust at a time when privacy is a major topic will ultimately be one of the most critical issues for publishers to tackle. “We are all looking at how to collect more data and create identity solutions, which makes it even more critical that we handle privacy and trust properly,” Welch said.

A shift in alternative targeting solutions

Many companies like to practice a fast follow strategy when new technological opportunities arise, but this year we will see a great deal of enthusiasm to lean into change and learn from experimenting.

“This is one area where publishers have a real say in the future of digital advertising,” Mummey said. “We have the purpose and the power to re-imagine content creation for experiences that suit both consumers and advertisers, not one or the other.”

It is a remarkable period, where for the first time all industry players, from advertisers to ad tech to publishers, are all uniting to address an industry problem. “Publishers should take the opportunity to lean into any conversations they can and test as many potential solutions as possible in early 2021 to determine what works best for that individual publisher, be it contextual targeting, third-party solutions or first-party data,” Donnell said.

Overall, there is a tremendous amount of optimism throughout the digital advertising community. From advertisers to ad tech to publishers, the industry is poised and ready to come together to address new opportunities. At Criteo, for example, we are embracing industry collaboration and recently joined forces with The Trade Desk to help drive adoption of Unified ID 2.0, building an open-source unified advertising ID for one-to-one advertising. Through this, we are providing single sign-on capability and co-developing a transparency portal in UID 2.0 with The Trade Desk, which will give consumers unprecedented control over their ad experiences.

In 2021 publishers are uniquely positioned to influence the course of evolution in identity, consumer relationships and industry collaboration. We hope and expect that the pendulum of control will continue to swing the way of publishers.

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