How Ad Tech’s Identity Was Rattled in 2020

By | December 29, 2020

2020—what a year—one that many will be glad to see the back of. But it’s also one that will haunt the ad-tech sector well into 2021, and potentially well beyond that.

The upcoming privacy overhaul in Apple’s iOS 14 and (further down the line) Google Chrome preoccupied Adweek readers in 2020, a trend that is likely to continue in 2021.

The reason? The internet “gatekeepers” of Apple and Google confirmed their intention to rattle ad tech’s value proposition, the ability to track, trace, and retarget without user-consent.

The gatekeepers’ stranglehold

The fact is, the scale of these two companies is such that, with the stroke of a pen, their privacy policies can become more impactful that those of governments around the world, the very reason such bodies are scrutinizing them.    

The announcement of Google Chrome’s 2022 overhaul prompted a flood of ‘identity initiatives’ from ad-tech independents with The Trade Desk’s UDID 2.0, apparently the talisman of this sector of the industry.   

As an aside, if you wanted some kind of an indication of how unprecedented a year 2020 was, The Trade Desk became more valuable than Ford during the last 12 months.

Yes, that’s right, 2020 was a year when a DSP surpassed the value of Ford, a company that makes actual things.

Facebook as ‘the little guy’?

Meanwhile, Apple’s roadblock to ad-tech companies being able to access its all-valuable IDFA is due in the first quarter of 2021 with Facebook’s operations in this field revealed a major casualty. This won’t count as a catastrophic blow to the social network, nor its 2020 nadir, there was that little concern of its content policies prompting an advertiser boycott.

Although, what it does demonstrate is the potential stranglehold such players have over the programmatic landscape. Just look at how Facebook is casting itself as ‘the little guy’ by comparison since then.

The CTV ray of hope  

End-of-year discussions Adweek had with market luminaries detailed the scale of the challenge ad tech faces in 2021 with one source noting how the sector is “paralyzed” plus buyers believe things will get tougher, before they get better.  

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom with connected television offering many ad-tech players the opportunity to berth themselves in new domains (and advertisers’ media plans) over the last 12 months. For instance, household names such as Disney are now gracing Adweek’s programmatic pages.  

See you in 2021?

Multiple sources told Adweek the programmatic sector was (relatively) unscathed by the Covid-19 pandemic when it came to overall ad spend in 2020.

Although, live events–the key opportunity to close those deals–are still up in the air. And even if vaccines rolling out slowly, those business trips require planning. One source told Adweek, “You can’t just spin up that event in two weeks, or even like two months when you do know that there is the right guidance [to host the event].”

So, while there is an appetite to meet face-to-face again, many companies are likely to be more judicious with their expenditures. The question is, will Cannes Lions or Dmexco continue to occupy the ad-tech sector’s calendar (and marketing budgets) ever again?

So, while ad tech may have escaped 2020 relatively unscathed by Covid-19, it’s probably fair to say the sector’s problems predated the pandemic and could potentially outlast it.