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As Googles demise of third-party cookies drags, debate over seller-defined audiences hardens

For the uninitiated, these audiences are among a cacophony of alternatives to third-party cookies which were proposed by the IAB Tech Lab last March. The essential premise is that SDAs let publishers (or perhaps a data company for example) create and sell targetable audiences without sharing user identifier data with external platforms.


  • Means seller-defined audience
  • Option to third-party cookies proposed by IAB Tech Lab
  • Lets publishers or data companies create and sell targetable audiences without sharing user data externally
  • Current disadvantages: SDAs arent accessible, they change from one publisher to some other, still need buy-in from marketers

No prizes for guessing why publishers like Insider and News International want this option to succeed. To be clear, they dont believe SDAs will ever fully replace third-party cookies nothing can do that. However they do see them becoming one of the main ways audiences will undoubtedly be sold online eventually. Whether it can is another question entirely.

To begin with, SDAs arent accessible. Yes, theyre used, however, not at any real scale. Actually, plenty of SDAs are increasingly being bought against a deal ID, or perhaps a private deal. That may change eventually, needless to say, and when it can the deals will undoubtedly be done via some RTB spec that means it is easy for marketers to get these audiences at scale (i.e open auction traffic). But until then, there are a great number of technical conditions that have to be ironed out.

Its a very important factor to get a SDA in one publisher at the same time. Its a complete different story in order to choose the same SDA audience across multiple publishers simultaneously in a privacy-secure manner. Oh, and be aware that not absolutely all SDAs will undoubtedly be created equal. A publisher should sell custom audiences using SDAs. Then theres the economics of the whole lot to believe through.

Complex as this all sounds, theres nothing beats a protracted deadline to place those hurdles in perspective. Google pushed its deadline to curb third-party cookies in browsers back from 2023 to 2024. That may be enough time to obtain SDAs in workable shape. In the end, its nothing like there arent enough vested interests to create it successful.

Consider it: most ad tech vendors associated with publishers see themselves later on as essentially a data clean room service of sorts a location where publishers and advertisers can join their data anonymously so the latter can identify the formers audiences they would like to buy in a privacy-secure way. The higher these sell-side ad tech vendors are in facilitating these deals the more their counterparts on the far side of the auction (i.e. demand-side platforms) are reduced to workflow tools that essentially place bids with respect to advertisers.

Any business associated with publishers includes a lot riding on SDAs, said Chris Kane, founder of programmatic consultancy Jounce Media.

Everybody else? Not really much. Marketers dont know very well what they need with regards to alternatives to third-party cookies to have even skin in the overall game here. Agencies havent got the lay of the post-cookie land yet to provide those marketers the best opinion. Limp demand from marketers and their agencies means DSPs are less incentivized to prioritize SDAs over other solutions. Sure, you can find exceptions like DSP Mediamath, but marketers and the firms that represent them are to a big extent procrastinating over SDAs.

In a nutshell, its a chicken and egg scenario. Marketers desire to see signs of progression before they commit significant sums to these audiences. But SDAs cant progress minus the buy-in from marketers. Its an elaborate, albeit not insurmountable, problem especially in comparison to Googles own efforts. It just takes a large amount of heavy lifting.

For instance, it really is still unclear whether SDAs will undoubtedly be immune to abuse by fingerprinting services. If that’s the case, how?, asked ukasz Wodarczyk, vp of programmatic ecosystem growth and Innovation at ad tech vendor RTB House. At RTB House, we research the potential using SDA and how this signal will correspond with the [Google] Topics API, Wodarczyk continued. This hybrid approach will help identify potential bias occurring in publisher-defined segments.

Simultaneously, theres a threat of huge deal setups and operational work.

Advertisers and agencies must make sure that holistic forecasting and optimization across SSPs continues to be possible, here SDAs have their limits.

Jochen Schlosser, chief technology officer, Adform

An advertiser might not need it an SDA thats been pre-determined by way of a publisher, for example. Instead, they could want a variation of this audience predicated on their very own sales data. Because of this to occur, the datasets have to be matched definately not straightforward.

Advertisers and agencies must make sure that holistic forecasting and optimization across SSPs continues to be possible, here SDAs have their limits, said Jochen Schlosser, chief technology officer at ad tech vendor Adform. The choice to perform auctions using first-party ID and standardized audiences on the marketplaces of the DSP have an obvious advantage to generate this unified view.

All told, its still start for SDAs. You can find so many open questions. Even publishers arent looking to get too worked up about it. You can find way too many open questions.

Were a little weary about this degree of standardization where IDs are participating, said the ad tech lead at a publisher in Europe who asked to stay anonymous because they weren’t authorized to talk with Digiday. It may be sort of a back door for the type of addressability that MEPs, regulators and Apple will fight. I believe wed should do an additional privacy impact assessment of the idea.

What publishers such as this really want is really a solution to sell standardized audiences via SDAs on view programmatic auction without needing to standardize the architecture of this data and its own activation of it. Otherwise, they cant do as much of the bespoke deals they are able to charge reduced for using SDAs.

As Google keeps kicking the cookie depreciation later on the evolution of SDAs is starting and stopping a little, said Peter Barry vp of addressability at PubMatic. The buyers who’ve leaned involved with it more from the outset will be able to create a competitive advantage quicker because theyll have discovered much more and had the opportunity to refine those strategies considerably faster than those that havent. Were encouraging buyers to check early and have those questions.

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