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Mark Grether 

Making walled gardens work for everyone

Making walled gardens work for everyone

The question is not whether brands should advertise within walled gardens, but how they can work around certain issues to make the most of the opportunities they offer, writes Dr Mark Grether

There is an ongoing debate over whether or not brands should be spending their ad budgets within walled garden environments. With an ANA survey indicating support for independent audits of the major providers is exceptionally high, big brands such as P&G threatening to withdraw ad spend unless third-party verification is implemented, and companies including TubeMogul making a stand for greater diversity with its Independence Matters campaign.

But the reality is, brands just can’t afford to ignore the unique opportunities walled gardens provide.

A walled garden is a technology platform with significant direct-to-consumer relationships in the form of media properties. The biggest walled gardens on the web are Facebook and Google, who between them attracted a fifth of international ad expenditure last year. These platforms provide exceptional audience reach with Google’s YouTube claiming almost a billion users, while Facebook is closing in on two billion.

But walled gardens are not perfect and restrictions on third-party access to these networks present challenges around data management, planning and measurement. So the question is not whether brands should advertise within walled gardens, but how can they work around these issues to make the most of the opportunities offered by walled gardens?

The appeal of walled gardens for advertisers is clear. In addition to sheer scale, these platforms also provide opportunities for precise audience targeting through sought-after deterministic audience data from logins or registrations, which identifies specific users.

For example, Channel 4 used Facebook targeting in promoting the second series of ‘Humans’ to reach a particular audience the broadcaster thought would enjoy the show - 18-44 year olds with an interest in artificial intelligence or robotics.

But while highly specific, this type of targeting is also restrictive as it only allows advertisers to use data within the confines of the walled garden rather than being able to apply the insights to executions in other channels.

For instance, if a brand works with a retail platform like Amazon, it can use the platform’s unique data – including previous purchase history - to run highly targeted campaigns, but the reach of campaigns is restricted to consumers who surf on Amazon owned and operated properties. Deterministic data is incredibly valuable and walled gardens are keeping it under lock and key.

Cross-channel measurement and attribution can also be a challenge. Walled-garden environments rarely provide impression level data. This makes it difficult for advertisers to gain transparency into how their budgets are performing, whether they are reaching their target audience, and what impact spend in a particular environment is having across other channels.

Understandably walled garden providers focus on selling their own media rather than seeking optimisation across the entire media plan. They only allow advertisers access to a snapshot of the customer - their activity and interactions within its walls - rather than allowing the entire customer journey to be pieced together and understood.

This is particularly problematic in today’s ever-expanding media landscape. As consumers interact with brands across a growing range of touchpoints, media planning is becoming a juggling act. To ensure messages strike the right chord, marketers must not only optimise targeting across multiple channels and devices, but also adjust creative and frequency for each environment and individual.

This requirement necessitates a complete understanding of audiences and cohesive media planning: both of which are difficult to obtain when walled gardens restrict data access.

Brands can flourish in walled gardens

To make the best of the situation, marketers need to explore technologies that sit on top of both walled and non-walled environments, allowing them to achieve a holistic view of the entire ecosystem. By adopting a solution that spans multiple environments, marketers can work with various demand-side platforms (DSPs) that offer seamless workflow between the DSPs and the ad server - allowing them to access and activate data across their media plan.

In this way, creative can be powered by data, with insight enabling marketers to adjust messages as consumers move between channels and screens for maximum engagement. What’s more, such solutions also give marketers the ability to input and export data easily using their media data management platform (DMP), thereby fuelling continuously effective consumer targeting across channels, devices, and experiences.

Walled gardens are unlikely to ever provide impression-level data but, by using platform technologies outside of the walled gardens, advertisers can move past rule-based attribution to measure the incremental value of each component using real-time insights gained from all touch points. They can piece together the customer journey, even when it ventures inside a walled garden, to allow the performance of different tactics to be effectively compared across the media plan.

In the near future, the rise of new media channels such as programmatic TV is set to chip away at the dominance of walled gardens, lessening their power in the advertising space. Yet the concept of a walled garden is not going away anytime soon.

With massive reach and high quality deterministic data, walled gardens are likely to remain an essential part of any brand’s media strategy. To use them effectively though, brands need other technologies that will help them link walled gardens with their wider media plans.

By using technology partners that span multiple environments, brands can get the best of both worlds; taking advantage of unified workflow and flexible data access to optimise media budgets across walled and non-walled environments, while also gaining a holistic view of the entire customer journey, and delivering high-impact cross-channel experiences.

Dr Mark Grether is executive chairman of Sizmek

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