Publishers shouldn't become walled gardens, there's a better choice

Opinion Piece
February 4, 2021
Santi Darmandrail

If you've been working in digital advertising for a while, you've probably at least heard or even used the phrase "walled garden". And you'll also know that there's two of those that really matter: Google and Facebook. But what if I told you that in 2022 there'll be 500 walled gardens? Yes that's not a typo; 500 walled gardens. Each with their unique segmentation rules, their unique reporting capabilities, and their own tech stack.

That's where Apple, with its latest iOS updates, and Google, with its announcements about killing third party cookies in Chrome, want to take us. A fragmented digital industry, where sharing information between partners in order to measure, reach, and personalize better, is virtually impossible. All of this is currently possible by the very technologies (the third party cookie, and the IDFA) that Google and Apple are about to kill. That is, unless your name is Apple or Google or Facebook.

In response to these massive changes, many publishers have decided that the best way to counterattack is to close themselves out. They're talking about using only first party data, only in owned inventory, and with proprietary planning and buying platforms. If I can't beat the walled gardens, then I'll become one. But what does this mean for users? And for advertisers?

For users it means that instead of being able to access content freely, something that is of course supported and allowed through advertising revenues, they can expect to be forced to log into virtually every site they visit. This looks sustainable for large publishers like The New York Times but what about the other thousand smaller sites? Or do we expect users to sign up (with the security implications this brings) to every recipe or celebrity news site they visit?

For advertisers it means that instead of buying advertising in a unified manner, they'll need to become experts in understanding each publisher's segmentation capabilities. And let's not forget that they'll need to accept that cross site frequency measurement isn't really an option anymore, just as retargeting won't be an option either. Unless they'd rather trust their entire strategy to the same company that sells them ads, tells them their ROI, and fiercely opposes third party audits.

And going back to publishers, it's easy to see how tougher restrictions on the users (through ubiquitous sign up walls) will encourage increased usage in a few large publishers and effectively kill off the long tail. So maybe it won't be 500 walled gardens but instead 4 or 5, and 494 walking dead.

We believe is supporting an open internet, where large tech firms don't make up rules that regulate and limit the way their competitors do business. We believe that users are willing to give some of their information (in a safe and easily controlled manner) to content creators that inform, educate, and entertain them. We believe that advertisers are willing to pay more to connect with their customers in a personalized way, in curated contexts, and with clear rules.

We believe there's a better way for Latin American publishers, and it's called Retargetly IDx.