Update:  Apple announced that the expected changed in IDFA this month will be delayed to 2021.  We have republished our August 5 interview with Bill Tucker of the ANA who heads a new industry consortium organized to push back on the new plans at Apple and Google.

Can the advertising industry convince the world’s biggest tech companies to row back their plans to limit audience tracking?

A new consortium of ad industry trade associations and brands thinks so.

The brand-new Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media (PRAM) has coalesced to fight two key changes amongst others:

  • Google’s plan to eliminate third-party cookies from Chrome by 2022, following earlier moves by Firefox and Apple’s Safari.
  • Apple’s plan, from September, to change Identity For Advertisers (IDFA), a system enabling mobile ad measurement across apps, to put users in control of the tracking by default.

The companies’ plans will hurt the ecosystem and PRAM wants them to accept plans it will develop for alternative solutions, says the partnership’s executive director Bill Tucker, who is also an EVP at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), a member of the consortium, in this video interview with Beet.TV.

Teaming to put the case

PRAM is an acronym soup of organizations from across the industry – 4A’s, Association of National Advertisers/ANA, Interactive Advertising Bureau, IAB Tech Lab, Network Advertising Initiative, World Federation of Advertisers.

But it also numbers ad-tech suppliers Adobe, LiveRamp, MediaMath and The Trade Desk; brands in the shape of Ford, GM, IBM, P&G, Unilever; UM and NBCUniversal.

“It became apparent that the collective industry would be better served in not just pushing back on these policies where we had no voice, but to curate and develop solutions that we then could take to the browsers, as well as begin to dialogue with them in a constructive way,” Tucker says.

“Business use cases (presented) will be marketer- and agency-driven to really flesh out the use cases that are critical that the cookie has enabled.”

Alarm growing

Cookies are the humble, client-side text files that have enabled much of digital ad targeting for the last two decades.

Killing third-party cookies – those set by websites other than the one a user is browsing – is an attempt by browser makers to bolster user privacy and control.

It is one of the tectonic plates shifting underneath advertisers, following regulation like GDPR and CCPA.

Many in the industry think deprecation of third-party cookies and other measures hold a silver lining for the practice of targeting – for example, leading to better outcomes by setting a new priority on gaining authentic user relationships.

But the formation of PRAM suggests many in the industry are alarmed at the prospect of this fundamental piece of technology falling off a cliff soon.

Even if PRAM’s stance should not be seen as an effort to convince Apple and Google to leave their trackers in place, it could be seen as an opportunity for some of its members to influence whatever technology ecosystem emerges on the other side.

Indeed, Google has said that it will halt its cookie move if no viable alternative solutions emerge before then.

Tucker has two focuces…

“One is to organise new solutioning to get standards built to replace the cookie, which has a clock of two years,” he says.

“(That is) participatory work to get to new standards that are acceptable by a browser so that we can safely execute addressable advertising.”

The efforts will include a technical standards group, and another group to drive communication and education.

PRAM will press the case for a working modern alternative to cookies by advancing advertisers’ “use cases” with the tech firms.

2. IDFA advocacy

Tucker says the group hasn’t yet determined how to present its case to Apple, but group members are unhappy that Apple’s upcoming change was “unilaterally legislated”.

“The Apple initiative will be different. We’re still framing up our approach, but we will be dialoguing with Apple on it,” he says.

“It has a substantial impact. We now intend to take on that challenge, that’s now part of the remit beyond the cookie.

“We hope to be able to dialogue with Apple about the marketer and the advertiser and the publishers’ point of view because it was unilaterally legislated, this change, and we need to deal with it.”

Chances of success

PRAM’s chances of success may be mixed with either tech company. In both cases, success for PRAM may risk Apple and Google being seen to row back on pro-consumer privacy and control measures they committed to over the last year:

  • Apple’s IDFA changes are due to launch imminently, in iOS 14, due for release in September and, by virtue of its business model, Apple owes little to advertiers.
  • Google’s entire business model, however, is predicated on advertising, and its cookie change is still two years away.

We have recently seen the pressure that big-brand advertisers exerted on Facebook for allegedly supporting hate, punishing the platform by removing ad spending.

The impact may be negligible for Facebook, but no company like Google will want to be on the side of a negative campaign again.

However, whether advertisers can curry as much sympathy as anti-hate campaigns, in their quest to re-ignite audience tracking, remains to be seen.