What I Learned at I-COM About Cookies, First-Party Data & the Fight Against Fraud
For those of us in the media/data/research ecosystem, one of the best ways to geek out is to attend the annual I-COM conference, a global forum on marketing data measurement. This year’s conference was in the very pleasant town of Porto, Portugal. The conference is the brainchild of entrepreneurial Andreas Cohen, an American expat who has lived in Switzerland for many years and has built the annual event into a networking and information bonanza.
The format is brisk: presenters usually get no more than seven minutes each to make their case. Thus the critical observer will never get enough exposition and debate to be convinced of anything; however the rapid-fire presentations do provide a good opportunity to sample, to see what different people and companies are doing (or at least claiming to be doing). As such, I-COM is a very efficient way to survey the digital media and marketing field; and because the submissions come from all over the globe, it helps one avoid the parochialism that can afflict even the most attentive of U.S.-based observers.
Here are a few items that caught my attention at this year’s meeting:
- The Cookie Crumbles. Cookies continue to lose support as a means of tracking consumers across digital space. They never were particularly good since cookies count browsers, not people; as such they overstate reach and understate frequency and cause advertisers to misallocate resources. Though that has been true for a long time, cookies are becoming increasingly untenable as an audience measurement tool. Rick Bruner of Viant estimates that 50% of cookies expire within five days of being set. If that weren’t impermanent enough, 35% of people in the U.S. now reset their cookies within a month’s time. Worse still, as the internet extends farther from the desktop and farther out into the Internet of Things, cookies lose whatever value they might once have had since two thirds of “connected devices” don’t support cookies at all.
- Rise of First-Party Data Threatened by GDPR? Related to the point above about the demise of cookies, many presenters gave accounts of their new and improved alternative – the leveraging “first-party data.” For non-geek readers, first-party data is the term of art for individually-identified customer data, subscriber lists, frequent shopper lists, registered user lists, CRM databases, etc. There is, of course, a brisk business ID management and in the exchange of those first-party data lists -- anonymized and stripped of personally-identifiable information, but still capable of enabling targeted advertising and messaging. Reports from some of the European delegates indicated that the E.U.’s impending enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) may put a big damper on that data market by requiring explicit consumer opt-in for each and every data user, with draconian financial penalties that could snag any companies with E.U. customers, regardless of whether or not those companies have European operations. In our globally connected world, I suspect that would include a shocking number of U.S. companies.
- Fraud Fighters. The problem of fraud, bots, non-human traffic, and cybercrime continue to bedevil the digital advertising supply chain. Several delegates from various countries outlined the state of their efforts to fight back. Alas, none of those presentations left me feeling very optimistic that the good guys are winning. Instead, I had more the impression of a whack-a-mole kind of stalemate. According to Michael Tiffany of White Ops, two-thirds of the fraud today comes from compromised residential computers infected with malware and thus recruited unwittingly into some type of cybercrime. In his typically colorful way, he explained that, “An internet architected to withstand nuclear attack is still vulnerable to connected toasters.” Great.
- The Judge Judy Perspective. Twenty years on, the digital revolution continues to be so fascinating and so disruptive that we often lose touch with larger realities. This happens especially when we are discussing linear TV – presumed to be DOA because our teenage kid doesn’t watch much of it. However Dave Morgan of Simulmedia noted, one daily episode of the syndicated TV show “Judge Judy” delivers more commercial audience minutes (ie. commercial minutes X audience) than an entire 24 hours of all You Tube. It’s good to keep things in perspective.
I-COM also featured lots of positive and encouraging material as well. There were terrific case studies of using sophisticated data analytics to discover non-obvious insights about customers of diverse brands – from Chobani to Chipotle. There were fine examples of data visualization and location-based marketing. There even was a stirring presentation about the use of data to profitably deliver micro-loans to very poor but credit-worthy Kenyan farmers. And, this being I-COM, there was lots of socializing and enjoying the pleasures of a unique and beautiful location.
Anyone who missed I-COM but is interested in the challenges of audience measurement and data monetization should consider attending the June 12-13 audience measurement conference of the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF). (Disclosure: I am the new president of the ARF). It will provide a chance to dig into many of the topics discussed above. Learn more about the audience measurement event here.