The digital advertising ecosystem of the open web is undergoing an epochal change right now, as it transitions from a world where cross-site tracking (the ability to trace browser data across different websites) powers ad targeting, to a more privacy-centric future without third-party cookies.
The standards for advertising that are in use today are based on technologies and processes created in the 1990s, on a nascent web, with people who could barely imagine what it could become.
While this change is propelled by web browsers changing the way they work, it echoes through the entire industry, and many parts of how advertising works need to be changed and rebuilt around core principles of user privacy.
Today, there are four main organizations that are driving these new digital advertising standards and behind-the-scenes conversations, reimagining the industry from the ground up.
Not only is AdThrive in all of those organizations and conversations, but we are leading the charge in many of the discussions, particularly with respect to how this new ecosystem will work for publishers — with AdThrive publishers at the top of the list.
1. W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)
Today, third-party cookies used for advertising purposes are dropped (or blocked) through a reader’s browser technology, but the browser itself does not play a role in the advertising equation.
One approach to replacing third-party cookies proposes giving the browser a leading role in the ad auction, standardizing the information that’s collected and putting full control over that collection into internet users’ hands.
The W3C is the organization that governs standards for the internet today, outlining internet-wide standards (like HTML and HTTPS) that are established by dozens of collaborative working groups. It was created in the 1990s by Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, and Sir Tim is still active in the organization today.
The W3C’s over 400 members range from the teams working on major browsers like Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, to advertising technology companies, large publishing firms, and government entities — and just one ad management company… us.
In early 2020, AdThrive’s parent company CafeMedia joined the W3C to bring the voice of the independent publisher to life in these decisions that are shaping the future of the internet.
Team members like myself and Don Marti, VP of Ecosystem Innovation, attend different meetings across multiple working groups each week, contributing to the standards and solutions from a publisher-first perspective.
AdThrive speaks up for publishers in W3C discussions and standards
For a small example, the new standards need to make sure advertisers can measure the performance of their ad campaigns. Since today’s measurement is based on third-party cookies, it needs to be completely redesigned for the future.
In a recent conversation around these standards, the browser vendors were discussing whether they can require site owners to use HTTPS to receive these new reports. Since we were on the scene, we could clearly let the browser vendors know that this was an acceptable solution for publishers — AdThrive publishers all run secure (HTTPS) sites, so it can work for them, and we know that almost all other quality publishers do the same.
On a series of other calls recently, our team has presented a battery of “publisher use cases”, detailing to the Chrome engineering team how publishers need to run their businesses and the types of things they need to be able to do for targeting and reporting.
These have been very well received and are being integrated into the main overall requirements for advertising on the web, which includes requirements from advertisers, advertising technology, privacy advocates, and now publishers, supplied by our team.
We’re making sure that AdThrive publishers’ best interests are communicated clearly so new standards are designed from the beginning to protect the diverse and creator-centric internet we have today.
2. IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau)
As the industry trade group that sets all of the standards around digital advertising, the IAB plays a crucial role in the decisions being made about the future of advertising. CafeMedia became a member of the IAB in 2019, participating in pivotal decisions on behalf of AdThrive publishers.
In early 2021, I was honored to join the IAB Tech Lab’s independent board of directors. The IAB Tech Labs develop industry-wide guidelines and technology around brand safety and ad fraud, identity and consumer privacy, ad experiences and ad measurement, and programmatic advertising effectiveness.
We’ve worked on a number of IAB projects, with the primary goal of ensuring that new standards do not disadvantage AdThrive publishers and that they make the web a level playing field for all great publishers.
For example, in discussions around evolving and upgrading ads.txt and sellers.json standards, we’ve been very involved in developing ways that can help increase trust in the ecosystem, but to the benefit of AdThrive publishers. We’re also very involved with a proposal called “buyers.json” that will give publishers better control over the ads that appear on their site and cut down on malvertising.
And we’re actively engaged on Project Rearc which is a large-scale working group that’s creating many new standards for the future of digital media that balance consumer privacy and personalization.
Prebid is the industry’s main header bidding wrapper, an open-source platform central to all the ad code that AdThrive and other major ad networks run. Prebid is managed by a non-profit organization, Prebid.org.
Since 2019, CafeMedia has participated in the Prebid organization. Our ad code experts contribute numerous improvements to the code making it stronger for publishers everywhere, no matter how they run ads on their site.
In 2020, our VP of Data Science, Patrick McCann, was elected to the sole publisher seat on the Prebid board of directors, and we’re proud to announce that he was recently re-elected for his second term!
Holding the only publisher seat on the Prebid.org board, we have a huge responsibility to publishers across the web to make sure that evolving ad technology benefits the entire online ecosystem — serving publishers just as much as it does ad platforms and advertisers.
4. PRAM (Partnership for Responsible & Addressable Media)
As a super-alliance between advertising trade groups like IAB, Association of National Advertisers (ANA), American Association of Advertising (AAAA), World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), advertisers, agencies, ad tech companies, and publishers, PRAM’s goal is to present a united front of how advertising should operate in the future.
In a common theme, we joined this organization in early 2021 to ensure that the perspective of the publisher, particularly the publishers we represent, is heard through the process.
This group is heavily dominated by very large-scale companies (on both the advertising and publisher side), which is a benefit on the one hand because it helps give impetus to the organization’s efforts! But small and mid-size publishers have unique needs and concerns, and we want to make sure those interests are a part of the discussion.
Soon, PRAM will be releasing an extremely large document to the industry about all of the different publisher and advertiser considerations. AdThrive publishers will be well-represented thanks to the involvement of Rachel Parkin, who runs our ad sales team!
Beyond these organizations, thanks to our respected position in the industry, AdThrive/CafeMedia is able to join in many behind-the-scenes and highly-confidential conversations occurring with a small number of major publishers, advertisers, and advertising technology firms right now.
All of this — our presence on the board of directors of two major organizations and our involvement in the two other organizations driving the future of advertising — is a testament to the quality of our publishers and the belief that together, we represent the future.
Being at the forefront of these discussions not only helps ensure that this new ecosystem works optimally for AdThrive publishers but also means that we have the inside track on all of these new standards. As they are implemented, you’ll benefit more, and more quickly, than even the biggest publishing firms.
As the industry evolves through this massive shift, AdThrive publishers and quality publishers in general, can expect the best possible future revenue!