PRAM Organization Aims to Guide the New Privacy-First Digital Ad Landscape

by Barry Levine
Aug 24, 2020

The digital ad industry has come together a few times to fix some of its problems, such as the movement for transparency and against fraud. But a new organization signals collective industry action which could have even broader implications.

The mission: Set new standards for digital ads.

The New Partnership of Ad Organizations, Advertisers, and Tech Platforms

Formed earlier this month, the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media (PRAM) includes the industry’s major organizations –the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, IAB Tech Lab, the Network Advertising Initiative and the World Federation of Advertisers. Founding members also include several major advertisers such as Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Ford, as well as tech vendors Adobe, The Trade Desk, LiveRamp and MediaMath, and publisher NBCUniversal.

This new push for standards comes as two waves of change recast digital advertising: new privacy regulations by states in the U.S. and the E.U., and the impending death of third-party cookies.

Third-party cookies have been key to tracking and targeting ads at unknown users. The problem, though, has been that those users have not given their consent to be tracked and targeted in this way. And this approach often annoys users, because the same ads will show up when you visit multiple sites – even in those cases where you have already bought what’s in the ad.

The Three Ways of Targeting Users in the Future

Exactly what will replace third-party cookies is not yet determined, although Google, LiveRamp, The Trade Desk, and others are working on solutions. By and large, they are all based on the new privacy-first landscape, and they emphasize the new digital center of gravity for brands: first-party cookies, which are dropped on a brand’s registered users and visitors to its site and are considered acceptable because registration by the users and visitors is the needed consent.

Whatever replaces third-party cookies, the new digital ad landscape is rapidly taking shape. IAB Tech Lab President Dennis Buchheim envisions that the new environment will feature three main ways of targeting users:

  • Anonymous users will see ads related to a web or app screen’s content. This kind of contextual targeting means that, for instance, ads about tents for winter weather will appear on web pages about camping.

  • A brand’s logged-in users will give permission to have their online behaviors tracked and used for targeted ads and content. Such authenticated users, when logged into Walmart’s site, might see ads for sunglasses because they have looked at web pages for beach umbrellas at that retailer’s site, and have given their OK to be so targeted.

  • The third category might be an entirely new one. Google has proposed a Privacy Sandbox, where a user’s preferences and online behavior can be tracked, but the details stay in the user’s browser. This info is then used to classify the user in various ways, such as belonging to certain “flocks” or interest groups. A user whose online behavior includes visits to web pages about beach vacations, for example, might see ads about travel deals to the Bahamas because the browser’s Sandbox tells the ad server that she’s in a “vacation” flock.

The New Emphasis on User Privacy

PRAM’s new tech, business, and other standards are expected to begin emerging by year’s end. It’s not yet clear how the standards might be enforced, if at all. It might be that these major participating trade organizations agree to some certifications – sort of Good Housekeeping Seals – and vendors or advertisers who don’t have those certifications are shunned by their customers and partners.

Buchheim told Maark that, while the standards won’t specifically prescribe one or another solution for addressing ads to Web users in the world after third-party cookies, it could set guideposts that effectively point in a given direction, such as requiring consent for all ad targeting.

The key thing, he said, is that the emphasis is now on user privacy, not – as previously had been the case – on acquiring user data to target ads.

Barry Levine writes about marketing tech, ad tech and related topics. He has covered this space as a staff Senior Reporter for Marketing Land, MarTech Today and Search Engine Land, as a staff Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and as a reporter for Marketing Dive, ClickZ, RampUp, CMSWire and NewsFactor. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at @BarryLevine.

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