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Industry momentum behind a consumer-friendly identity solution is picking up pace, says The Trade Desk’s Michelle Hulst.

Seven months and counting before cookies disappear, major players in the advertising industry are aligning behind the need for a central identity solution — one that promises to preserve the value exchange of content for relevant advertising. A cookieless future looms. But have no fear, Michelle Hulst, the chief operating officer of The Trade Desk, tells The Current.

“It’s an exciting time,” says Hulst. “We’re taking a potentially negative thing happening to the industry, and using it to upgrade the experience for all.”

When the powerhouse Publicis Groupe announced earlier this month that it was signing up to Unified ID 2.0, it galvanized many in the industry to move faster toward this identity upgrade, says Hulst. The collaboration between Publicis and The Trade Desk allows Publicis to use its first-party data on Epsilon’s CORE ID platform and make it interoperable with UID 2.0, thus allowing brands to create relevant campaigns at scale. At the same time, consumers will have more control of their data and privacy.

Says Hulst, the Publicis announcement is a “great example of a key leader and needle mover in the industry embracing UID 2.0 wholly.” She is quick to point out, this does not preclude other players from participating with UID 2.0, which is an open-source solution and interoperable by design. “Post announcement, we have seen an uptick in UID 2.0 interest from our agency partners, who want to know how they can get more involved with UID 2.0 and publicly declare that they're on board as well.”

To dig deeper into the concept of a privacy-conscious identity solution and why it’s attractive to advertisers, publishers and consumers alike, The Current grabbed a few minutes with Hulst for her insights on the future of identity in the post-cookie world.

Are advertisers actually looking for an upgraded solution or are they simply using cookies until they expire and then looking to replace them with something else?

Advertisers will welcome an upgraded solution, but their primary driver right now is to make sure that the tools that are available to them via cookies don't disappear because they understand the value of data-driven advertising. So, the primary driver is to make sure that occurs. Over time, I believe they’ll come to realize the benefits of this upgraded experience as well. They won’t see the type of drop-off that they've seen before with third-party cookies. They will have an easy mechanism for activating their first-party data and being able to decision against it. Consumer experience will improve because the consumer is giving proactive consent and they have control over their data.


How does the solution help advertisers deliver their stated goal of personalization at scale?

If advertisers have their own first-party, CRM data, UID 2.0 allows them to onboard that directly into The Trade Desk platform, for example, or other DSPs or platforms that they may work with that are aligning on UID 2.0. This will allow their data to be a part of the decisioning process and it can also be enhanced with third-party data and modeled against to achieve additional scale.


It speaks also to interoperability, which is a key part of the UID 2.0 solution. Why is that important?

Interoperability is important because it is key to having an identity solution work for the open web is to make sure that it is as scaled as possible. And that doesn't mean that we need to have every single person logged in for it to work, but you do want to get as much reach as possible. Interoperability allows UID 2.0 to work with other identifiers that are out there, in order to achieve as much broad scale as possible across the open internet.


Do you think there will be one identity solution to rule them all?

I believe there will be more than one ID that the industry ends up aligning on, but the key to ensuring there is scale is making sure those identity solutions are all interoperable, something we’ve been very focused on with UID 2.0.

There will be other solutions beyond just individual-based identifiers that end up existing. We've seen that with the announcement of Google FLoC, for example, and I assume there will be other types of cohort-type solutions as well. You can think of logged-in users as a mega panel, unlike any that we've ever seen. For folks that aren't logged in, there will probably be extrapolation that's used in order to increase scale. Contextual advertising will also have a role in a future without third-party cookies. But central to recreating the fabric of the internet is a consented identity solution like UID 2.0.

We reported on research from Australia where eight out of 10 people say they don't feel in control of their online personal data. So, how important is it to get the single sign-on (SSO) part of this consumer experience right?

It’s really about getting the consumer consent portion right: how are we explaining the value exchange of the internet to consumers and then gathering their consent to allowing their data to be converted to a UID 2.0 to enable data-driven advertising. The transparency and consent language will exist whether one is logging in as part of an SSO or a site’s own log-in. The SSO will play an important role for the long tail of the open web, for sites that don't have logins currently. With UID 2.0, the goal is to provide consumers with a clear understanding of the quid pro quo of the internet and then the consumer provides proactive consent to allow their data to be used. And they can also go a layer deeper to understand how their data is being used. The challenge is really striking that fine balance of being able to make sure that the consumer is educated enough, but not overwhelmed. And I think that's really critical.

What kind of potential does UID 2.0 have in the connected TV streaming space?

The great thing about streaming is much of it is email-based already. Because of that, it's very easy for somebody to convert log-ins to a UID 2.0, which then allows all of the benefits of UID 2.0 to open up to advertisers across CTV inventory. Advertisers are looking for a way to do things like frequency cap and have consistent messaging across what is currently a rather fragmented ecosystem and UID 2.0 allows them to do just that.


We're in this transitional state at the moment. Why is it critical to seize the narrative?

The deprecation of third-party cookies is forcing the industry to look at things differently, reevaluate how they engage with consumers. It’s an opportunity for an upgrade and I think it’s critical that we take advantage of this opportunity to ensure that an upgrade to the data-driven advertising experience occurs for all key stakeholders: publishers, advertisers and consumers. UID 2.0 is not only an industry-wide solution to cookies going away, but it's also an opportunity for us to upgrade that interaction for all involved.

Identity