The Future of Marketing: Is Addressability Going Away?

In recent months, curious marketers have been asking themselves a question: is addressability going away? 

At Zeta, we think the answer is pretty clear:

Absolutely not. 

Here’s why…

Addressability isn’t under threat—access to it is

In the realm of digital marketing, addressability is a broad term. If a device or channel allows marketers to message (i.e. “address”) the browsers or web-enabled devices of a particular audience (rather than broadcasting to everyone who visits a given website), addressability is in play. Without addressability, marketers (and the brands they represent) would struggle to reach the consumers most likely to engage with their message, adversely impacting both campaign effectiveness and return-on-investment.

Moreover, marketers need addressability to measure the value that’s being generated from their campaigns. Given that it’s impossible to improve that which can’t be measured, the measurement capability afforded to marketers through addressability is critical to marketing success.

Right now, a few major technology players are planning to take steps that will transform the digital marketing universe. These changes—specifically, getting rid of cross-publisher IDs and mobile-ad IDs—won’t do away with addressability, they’ll just restrict marketers access to it. If cross-publisher IDs and mobile-ad IDs go away, these major players will be the only large-scale providers of addressable digital marketing left standing. 

That is why we say addressability itself isn’t under threat, but free market access to it is. 

Why aren’t people more concerned about this?

In a word?—Confusion.

People aren’t concerned about the suggested changes to cross-publisher IDs and mobile-advertising IDs because they’re confused about this being a privacy issue. 

They assume—incorrectly—that all digital IDs (mobile-ad IDs, cross-publisher IDs, etc.) are known IDs that can be easily associated with someone’s offline identity. 

This is not the case. 

Most cross-publisher IDs and mobile-ad IDs are pseudonymous, meaning they’re kept separate from offline identities and they’re not tied to any real-life names. This makes them different from directly-identifiable IDs which are be linked to an offline identity. Given that most of the risks related to consumer privacy stem from directly-identifiable IDs, leading government regulators—including the authors of GDPR and CCPA—make it clear that pseudonymous mobile-ad IDs or cross-publisher IDs aren’t a major issue. 

Follow the money

The people pushing for the retirement of mobile-ad IDs and cross-publisher IDs are trying to frame this as a “privacy” issue. But the idea that cross-publisher and mobile-ad IDs need to go away to “protect consumer privacy” is a false narrative. IDs and addressability will continue to be available, but they’ll only be available within the “walled gardens” of a few major tech companies. The very few privacy risks associated with IDs and addressability that currently exist, will continue to exist within these “walled gardens.” 

The push to eliminate cross-publisher and mobile-ad IDs is an initiative rooted in creating better profits, not better privacy. To put this in perspective, look at addressability through the lens of basketball… 

The elimination of cross-publisher IDs and mobile-ad IDs won’t change the sport itself—the size of the ball, the point value of a basket, and the height of the hoop will stay the same. 

However, their elimination will change where the game is played and (most importantly) who can play. 

Right now, the game is held on an open court, where all teams are welcome to come and play whenever they want.

But if mobile-ad IDs and cross-publisher IDs go away? Well, the game will move into a private court where only a select few can play.  

Why it all matters

The future of addressability matters because it is the backbone of a free and open internet—it pays the proverbial bills of the web. If tools like cross-publisher IDs and mobile-ad IDs go away, so too will the diverse array of content that makes the internet THE INTERNET. These proposed changes will stifle creativity, hurt freedom of expression, and make it harder for end-users to get the information they need (from breaking news, to medical advice, to Almond-free biscotti recipes). To ensure the internet continues to thrive and exist in its current format, responsible addressable advertising powered by digital IDs is non-negotiable. 

So, what’s next?

Addressability isn’t going away, but its future remains uncertain. 

While the largest, vertically-integrated platforms strive to create rules that will do away with pseudonymous cross-publisher IDs and mobile-ad IDs, other industry authorities are trying to keep the playing field open and accessible to all.

As far as Zeta is concerned, we believe the responsible use of cross-publisher IDs, mobile-ad IDs, and other pseudonymous IDs is essential to the preservation of a free and open Internet. Therefore, we encourage digital marketers to stand-up and take action. We encourage you to contact the W3C and other digital thought leaders to express your concern about the ramifications of eliminating cross-publisher IDs and mobile-ad IDs.   


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