AdProfs Founder: ‘Apple and Google Broke the Ecosystem’ of Programmatic Promoting

After a tumultuous year for the ad-tech world, we’re taking a look at what happened and how it’ll affect the industry in 2021 with the help of influential ad-tech consultant Ratko Vidakovic.

The founder of AdProfs, which provides education and training for marketers on programmatic advertising, sat down with Adweek to critique the crucial developments over the last 12 months. The conversation covered how Google is equally as apprehensive as independent players over how ad tech will work in a post-cookie industry, not to mention the stresses of increased governmental oversight of its behaviorally targeted advertising business, and the potential for Apple to further its advertising ambitions.

The below interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What do you think were the most impactful developments in ad tech over the last 12 months?
Vidakovic: The whole industry has been thrown into a state of systemic flux and disarray because of the loss of third-party cookies [in Google Chrome by 2022].

Then we also have the loss of mobile identifiers in Apple’s app ecosystem … and more than likely we’ll have the loss of MAIDs in Google’s Android ecosystem as well next year, so it’s kind of like we’re in a weird purgatory right now; it’s an inflection point. Everyone’s searching for solutions for identity, contextual advertising, and how to do frequency capping or attribution.

Although, I’m quite optimistic that one day we’re going to look back and think, ‘What was the big deal all about?’ If you look back, it’s not as if the industry was built with a grand design in the first place, it just kind of emerged organically.

There are concerns the current state of developments will favor Big Tech, and further entrench power with them at the expense of smaller companies.
Apple and Google essentially broke the [programmatic] ecosystem, and now each of them are proposing their own privacy solutions, which essentially make them the gatekeepers either through the [mobile] device or the browser.

And while it is absolutely concerning over the concentration of power in their hands … somebody does have to restore some sense of normalcy and order. And it feels like with Google’s Privacy Sandbox Proposals they are conscientious of all the use cases that advertisers need right now and all the habits that buyers have become accustomed to.

So it seems to be trying to accommodate all the things like audience retargeting that advertisers have come to expect, but with more concern for privacy. Although there are some legitimate concerns remaining over how much control these [Privacy Sandbox proposals] would take away from publishers.

Google’s other big narrative this year was its battles against the government, most notably the three separate antitrust cases in the U.S. What effect do you think this will have on the industry?
If you look at the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust report earlier this year, it seems they were asking some pretty sophisticated questions, and clearly they’ve been briefed [by experts] on ad tech.* Those are not the kind of questions you ask and then just walk away from; based on those questions, I think they will go after Google’s ad stack.

I also see regulators in Europe, such as the U.K.’s Competition Markets Authority, are looking into things like the actual RTB protocol under GDPR for leaking personal IDs in the bid stream.

But to me it seems like if that’s truly enforced, then it only helps the walled gardens even more because Google can just essentially turn off that data [in Chrome] … and if you want any more bid requests, then you have to go directly though Google.

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