EBay looks beyond cookies with new programmatic targeting system

Ecommerce company’s Advanced Audience Technology is based on user IDs and updates in real time.

eBay: released ad in May promoting role of SMEs
eBay: released ad in May promoting role of SMEs

EBay Advertising has taken a key step in preparing for a digital media landscape without third-party cookies with the European launch of eBay Advanced Audience Technology, an audience-targeting product based on its own shopper data and user profiles.

The online marketplace will continue to sell ads programmatically in the conventional way, in which demand-side platforms and supply-side platforms auction inventory to advertisers, which may either run their campaigns directly or via media agencies. But eAAT, which launched in the US in May and will gradually roll out to other territories, differs because it avoids the use of third-party data.

This means eAAT will remain viable after the use of third-party cookies as the basis for digital ad-targeting comes to an end. Google announced in January that it would phase out the use of third-party cookies on its Chrome browser by 2022 and in March said it had no plans to delay the move, despite the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic. Chrome has a global market share of about 65%; Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox have already made similar moves.

EAAT offers a series of advantages over cookie-based targeting, according to Mike Klinkhammer, EU director of advertising sales at eBay. It uses a customer’s eBay user ID to identify them – something that Klinkhammer said offered far better audience match rates than relying on data management platforms, thus giving advertisers increased certainty that ads are reaching the people they are being aimed at. 

This approach means brands can have more confidence that they are only advertising to shoppers who are “in market” (those actively searching for a given category – for example, smartphones), because as soon as a customer makes a purchase their profile is updated to take them out of that segment (for instance, “smartphone intenders”).

As well as improving the efficiency of programmatic campaigns, this should help limit the familiar experience of being served ads for a product after already buying it – one of the factors contributing to the issue of “bombardment”, recognised by the Advertising Association as contributing to declining public trust in advertising. (Klinkhammer, however, acknowledged that the issue could not be totally avoided if a user searches eBay for a product but then makes a purchase elsewhere.)

“Third-party cookies have certainly served a purpose, but the advertising industry is crying out for an alternative – and, so far, there’s a gap in the market,” Klinkhammer said. “That’s why we rebuilt our infrastructure from the ground up to maximise reach and future-proof our offering to ultimately help drive better business outcomes for our clients.

“With marketers under peak pressure to demonstrate ROI in the current climate, this next generation of audience capabilities changes the game for advertisers looking for granular, transparent targeting at scale.”

While eBay’s new offering is focused on reaching specific audiences, Klinkhammer said the end of cookies could also see a renewed focus on brand-building in digital advertising. “It’s going to get harder without cookies to reach audiences – so context will benefit,” he explained. But even within highly targeted approaches, he sees room for creativity to flourish: “If you’re able to reach more niche audiences, you can come up with more bespoke creative solutions for these audiences.”

Klinkhammer said he was optimistic about the future for digital media, “because what this industry has shown in the past decade or two is it has been able to evolve. GDPR was a big one and this whole cookie discussion… the industry will have to find solutions to these challenges. The benefits remain: it’s a medium that’s very trackable. It can always prove its value to brand marketers.”

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