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6 Questions with Todd Parsons, Criteo

October 30, 2020
Criteo and The Trade Desk are joining forces to help drive adoption of an open source Unified ID initiative

Two of the largest demand side advertising platforms are working together to help drive the future of consumer identity and privacy on the open internet.

Criteo is a global technology company that built its name on the concept of personalized and relevant advertising across the consumer journey on publisher and retailer sites. The company has partnered with The Trade Desk on the Unified ID 2.0 industry initiative to develop a replacement for third-party cookies. It’s a collaboration that speaks to the imperative of developing an industry-wide solution for the future of identity, even among companies that otherwise compete.

Specifically, Criteo is providing a single sign-on solution and co-developing a transparency portal in Unified ID 2.0, which will allow consumers to have unprecedented control over their advertising experience.

We spoke with Todd Parsons, the chief product officer at Criteo, about the importance of this partnership, these consumer-facing initiatives, and his hopes for the future of the open internet.

Criteo is obviously a competitor with TTD, yet here we are working together. What should we make of that?

This is an initiative and a need that’s bigger than any of the individual players in ad tech.
If you look at this through the lens of the impact of not doing something like this, you very quickly see we’re all going to be affected. And so, we’re basically in it for the industry, putting our potential competitive selves aside and doing the right thing.

Why is this partnership important?

The thing that is bringing us together more than anything else is that ad tech has finally a good reason to connect with consumers, to re-level the value equation of the internet towards them. I think the thing that matters the most is that we have an opportunity to change the browsing experience and the advertising experience of people. For the first time the alignment is there for major players in the ecosystem to get behind an effort like this. For a while, we’ve needed to make advertising more valuable to the people who matter the most, the recipients of it.

You’re contributing some key assets to this project? Tell us more about the sign-on solution and how this will function in terms of user experience, and also the transparency portal.

What we’ve been building on this end, and focused on, are two things: one is [what we’re calling] the transparency portal for consumers to specify their choices, enabling them to define and manage their advertising rights and preferences and data privacy. And the other piece, that we’ve done more on, is a way to engage consumers in the publisher realm. The single sign-on is the gateway that publishers can install, by which those rights are accessed. When you hit the website you’re presented with a dialogue box that, if you’re there for the first time, will ask you to select personalized advertising or not, and then to issue a token so that the preferences that are governed in the portal would be enforced on that particular domain and potentially multiple subdomains within it. So, we’ve been working on those two pieces.

How will this solution change the consumer’s experience of navigating the open web?

It really would change it for the better in two ways. First: making it obvious how you’re being advertised to and why, and controlling your rights, is a pretty significant difference. Second: as the so-called universal platform identifiers [i.e. third-party cookies] go away, a consumer’s ability to have a web experience like they have today is going to be impeded. So, you can imagine a world where you get the same sweep stakes ad, for example, without a frequency cap, across many sites, because there’s just no way to know that you’re the same user crossing a number of different domains. If you had said yes to personalization, you know why the site that you’re on is allowing a personalized ad to be delivered. Pretty straight forward.

What’s the advantage for marketers?

First of all, potentially, you’ll have consumers who are qualified and willing and able to get a message — that’s the intent of advertising to start with. That’s the reason personalization as a term exists to begin with. And here as a marketer, at least you’re more certain that you have a willing participant on the other end of delivering that ad. And depending on what choices have been selected, you’re able to set aside a lot of the doubt around ‘why am I seeing this?’ Rather you’re changing the perspective to ‘Well, that’s nice, I’m glad they remembered me.’ And that’s the intent of advertising. That’s what marketers want. They don’t want to be working towards less than one percent response rate. They really don’t want that. But that’s where we’ve ended up.

What’s at stake if the industry doesn’t develop an alternative to cookies?

Potentially a broken internet. It’s not just advertising. You can imagine a place where you’ve got publishers needing to force a log in, a paywall, or an offer wall, and everyone coming by, because there’s not a better way to collect and convey rights. How many websites do each of us frequent in a day, in a week, in a month? Some of them are one time and some of them aren’t. It’s one thing to use single sign on. But imagine if you were having to register each time you were going to a new application at your work. That’s a pretty horrible thing to think about.

And the reason I get excited about this solution is because I don’t want that experience for myself. I think about my mother who’s almost 80, and I think about my sister and her 12-year-old and 16-year-old kids, I just think about it through the lens of how each of them would feel. [Instead] you want them excited to know that there’s an independent body that has my back: it’s balancing the rights between advertisers, and people who partner with advertisers, marketers, and me.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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