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Real Identity Podcast: The Rosetta Stone of Identity

Real Identity Podcast: Episode 22

Created at March 8th, 2022

Real Identity Podcast: The Rosetta Stone of Identity

Gio Gardelli, Senior Director, Ads Targeting, Identity, & Trust at Yahoo, joins the Real Identity podcast to discuss the balance between the complexity of the advertising space and the current disruption happening in the identity and consent world. Identity is at the center to enable better advertising reach, but it also requires trust. Yahoo takes a consumer-first approach to identity that enables advertisers to reach their audience in a privacy-safe way, and utilizes Acxiom’s infrastructure to create a seamless customer experience. Acxiom’s partnership with Yahoo helps advertisers improve activation and measurement to create a unified view of campaigns and performance across all channels.

Transcript

Kyle Hollaway:
Hello, and welcome to Real Talk about Real Identity from Acxiom. This podcast is devoted to important identity trends in the convergence of adtech and martech. I’m Kyle Hollaway, your podcast host, and I’m joined by our co-host Dustin Raney.

Kyle Hollaway:
Real Talk about Real Identity is focused on exploring the convergence and related disruption of martech and adtech from an identity practitioners lens. You know, Dustin, I recently read in Digiday where Ciaran O’Kane, CEO of WireCorp and the general partner at Startup Investment Fund, FirstPartyCapital said that the impact to adtech M&As are having will be the erosion of scaled audience buys across the open internet. And that this will result in a, “Bifurcation of the open web. In one camp there will be utility publishers that will seek to outsource their adtech capabilities while more mainstream publishers will seek to operate as a mini walled garden.” You know as we continue to see publishers and brands shift to first party data and the importance of that, there seems to be a natural shift towards an almost kind of Monroe Doctrine regarding their properties.

Kyle Hollaway:
Publishers won’t get involved with other publisher affairs, walled gardens would not interfere with other walled gardens. No other walled garden would be established. Unilateral actions are taken as hostile. I mean, I know that’s a strain analogy, but it seems to fit with the level of protectionism the walled gardens have shown thus creating a, if we can’t beat them, join them mentality across much of the digital publisher landscape. You know, the challenge is going to be finding ways for the walled gardens, large or small to work together to enable scaled audience buys. What’s your thoughts, Dustin?

Dustin Raney:
Yeah, I mean, certainly it’s super interesting. This push from moving to, I guess what we would all call the easy button. These cookie syncs from publisher to publishers. Brands are looking to find new audiences and publishers are looking to monetize and their content to now this kind of very consent-based who has really control of data, ownership of data, ownership of the relationship with customers. It seems like there’s a whole kind of new race that’s happening here.

Dustin Raney:
And I think it also puts a lot more emphasis and pressure on, especially on the publisher side on the content and the value prop, right? The services that are being offered, where do I want to consume content? Who do I want to give my identity to? So super interesting for sure. Really that leads us to our next guest on the show. Today we are blessed to have Gio Gardelli, Senior Director, Ads Targeting, Identity and Trust at Yahoo.

Gio Gardelli:
Hi.

Dustin Raney:
So Gio, welcome to the show, man.

Gio Gardelli:
Thank you. Thank you for having me today. Super excited to be here with the both of you.

Dustin Raney:
We’re super excited to have you. It’s so good to speak with you again. I know you and Kyle have actually had the chance to speak together here recently and a joint talk around the things we’ll probably be talking a little bit more about today. We’re really thankful for you joining the podcast. And I know our listeners are going to be super excited to hear what you had to say. We always love an insider voice from especially your neck of the woods: media. So why don’t you start by giving our listeners an update on your background and kind of what led you to your role at Yahoo.

Gio Gardelli:
Absolutely. I’ve been my entire career in advertising. I started before programmatic was a thing back in the mid 2000s in the glory days of the ad networks. For those who remember the first platform I worked on was Wright Media, the tech that enabled Dot Networks to trade and operate really. So lots of buttons and levers to push, lots of spreadsheets and Excel reports. Probably as many as today actually, but no real time bidding, no programmatic trading.

Gio Gardelli:
I was at Yahoo back in the day and we had a team of media buyers who would literally pick up the phone, call publishers and ask them to send a certain amount of inventory over a rod network that we could monetize anyway. And I was in the operations team running performance campaigns for advertisers. And that’s really where I developed an interest and passion for targeting and optimization practices, if you will. And I went down the rabbit hole and boy was that deep.

Gio Gardelli:
That led me to a switch to product management. I moved with Yahoo to the U.S. back in 2014 and helped working on the DSP when we launched it back then, after a couple of years, I left for Snapchat. So I went from the open RTV world To the walled garden world. When Snapchat started building its own adtech in house and over there I was way more focused on workflow and buying tools for advertisers. I was really missing the whole targeting side of the advertising equation.

Gio Gardelli:
And so when an opportunity presented itself to come back at Yahoo with a targeting role, I took it without thinking twice. And so I’ve been back at Yahoo for the last three years overseeing targeting identity and trust with a heavy focus on the disruption happening in the identity and consent world and how we can future proof our business and help advertisers and publishers to keep trading ads with each other.

Kyle Hollaway:
Wow. That’s awesome. And love your story there and the background. And certainly, yes, you’ve been down some deep dark holes in the adtech world and that foray even into the walled garden side, I mean, that’s great. We’d love to hear more of your take on that. And as we talked at the beginning there about this sense of potentially the bifurcation of the open web to kind of the haves and the havenots around identity or around just the ability to manage, as Dustin said own the data and manage it and to monetize it.

Kyle Hollaway:
Certainly Yahoo in its recent iterations of Verizon Media and then into your current state is in a very strong position. What is your take on that view of the world? How are you guys looking at it at Yahoo?

Gio Gardelli:
Yeah, absolutely. I would agree with you. I think we’re very well positioned to evolve our business and help advertisers and publishers transition. Since the very early days of adtech within Yahoo, who we always had this concept of a person identified as a login, right? We have hundreds of millions of users logged in globally. And so all our stack from ad serving to targeting optimization identity had this concept of a login idea or a personal ID built in it for over a decade. And actually, I think we were one of the first companies developing integrations with companies like Acxiom to onboard offline data into the digital world and provide this new dimension of audiences and segmentation to advertisers. I think the first integrations we developed were as early as 2008 or 09.

Gio Gardelli:
It wasn’t as important then I feel because of the predominance of the usage of cookies and device IDs as identifiers that were like ubiquitous and like very easy to use for any adtech company, but as the focus shifts back towards logins and registrations, we find ourselves being 80% there already in terms of how the product should look like and how we should behave. And so really when we started investing in Yahoo ConnectID, we actually found that again, the foundation was already in place and all we had to do was make some tweaks to our products to enable publishers, advertisers, and partners on measurement and activation side to integrate with us more seamlessly, but in our buying and selling tools at the core were already supporting this different kind of identity. And so it’s been a very easy actually, I don’t want to say easy, but a fairly smooth transition and evolution for us.

Dustin Raney:
That makes sense. Just thinking about my personal experience with Yahoo going back to college, like the late 90s, right. I’ve had my Yahoo email address, I think I actually have my name. That’s kind of rare these days when you can own your name as the Yahoo email address. So you all have been collecting and had a kind of a, like you said, a foothold in the PII world and had been providing value in a lot of different ways to be able to obtain those types of things.

Dustin Raney:
I think it’s cool just going back to your title. One it’s like Senior Director, Ads Targeting, Identity and Trust at Yahoo, to have those three things combined and it just seems like the right thing. It takes identity at the center to enable ads targeting, but it also requires trust on the other end. So you are in product. Can you tell us a little bit about just your title? How did you guys come to that name? I think that would be interesting.

Gio Gardelli:
Yeah, absolutely. So the team historically was predominantly focused on just user targeting so anything our ad servers needed to know about a user, the targeting team would provide. We were not focused on other kinds of targeting, contextual where each ad server would just have their own integrations with vendors for geo-targeting, techno targeting, carrier targeting, weather targeting and so on. And that was it.

Gio Gardelli:
Then identity started becoming important, I would say maybe seven or eight years ago with the explosion of mobile. And so the need for cross device targeting and measurement and so the targeting team expanded into identity with this first focus of enabling cross device, again targeting and measurement. And the addition of trust is actually quite recent. And we have found that there’s quite a few synergies between those products as you mentioned, first targeting expanded beyond just user targeting. We saw a need to consolidate all context as well, not just user dimensions. And so we centralized our content contextual, our geo-targeting, our techno targeting, and so on under one team.

Gio Gardelli:
Then we saw the trust had a very similar focus just on the exclusion case instead of the inclusion especially when it comes to content contextual. Advertisers want to target pages that have specific content and intent that is aligned with their products, but they also want to exclude pages or websites or apps that are not aligned with their brand or are too sensitive. And so the two use cases are very different. Again, one is a targeting use case. One is a brand safety use case, but the technology and the products we’re building behind the scenes are 90% the same across both.

Gio Gardelli:
And so we found a lot of synergies between targeting and trust. And just a few months ago, we decided to have those teams join each other and start unlocking some of those synergies and learn from each other.

Kyle Hollaway:
You brought up obviously contextual, and that’s a big conversation right now especially in the targeting of considering moving away from people based and more into this contextual model, how have you guys reconciled that or molded the two together? I mean, you talked about kind of bringing it all under one, which is a great start to that strategy, but what’s the overarching kind of methods you’re using?

Gio Gardelli:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, first one thing I like to do every time we talk about context is to define context. And I say it because a lot of times there’s this implicit understanding that context equals content. And for us context is much more than just content. We believe that anything that is available in real time, in an ad request that does not require to know the user is context. The location in which the user is, is contextual. The weather at that location is contextual.

Gio Gardelli:
The device and the browser that the user is using to interact with content and generate another request is contextual. And I say it because when people look at just the content side of contextual targeting, I actually think it’s very limiting. The hard truth is that people don’t spend their day reading about the best credit card they can get, or which hotel to book when they go on vacation next. Most content which is interesting to users for it on a day to day basis is actually not really aligned with advertisers intent.

Gio Gardelli:
People spend a lot of time reading just generic news, politics, communicating, playing games. And that content is really not that useful to advertisers, but when you start layering all those other contextual signals together, then we believe there’s much more value to be unlocked. So that’s our thinking on the contextual side, when it comes to how we believe we can unlock this value, we actually think there’s a lot of synergies between identity solutions and contextual solutions.

Gio Gardelli:
Yes, we believe there’s going to be a bifurcation in the programmatic space with supply being addressable and supply not being addressable, but we believe the solutions that can help advertisers and publisher trade will have synergies between the two. And ultimately we think that there’s going to be a portion of supply that will remain addressable. And that will be the most valuable supply for publishers to sell at a premium, but for advertisers to preserve addressability, preserve advanced and sophisticated targeting and measurement and learn about how their performance is tracking.

Gio Gardelli:
We see that as a panel that advertisers can use to then learn and project those learnings on the remainder of the supply where addressability cannot be preserved, but onto which the buying can be informed by this panel of addressable users and addressable supply. So we really see those two worlds as distinct, but also synergic and we’re building solutions that help advertisers leverage what they know about the addressable world and project those learnings on their own addressable.

Dustin Raney:
Simple question. I’m not sure it’s going to be a simple response here, but addressable versus contextual. Have you seen a winner and are you seeing a shift as it relates to actual performance? Any thoughts there?

Gio Gardelli:
I’m going to respond with a third answer that you did not give me so I think it’s a trick but I think I’ll answer that. We think that neither will be a winner on their own. We think the winner will be a combination of the two, ultimately advertising works with options, right?

Dustin Raney:
Right.

Gio Gardelli:
And we know addressability tends to have better performance because of the sophistication of the methodologies you can apply for targeting and measurement. But as that pool of supply shrinks prices are going to skyrocket because the competition is going to increase dramatically, right? We are one of the lucky publishers to have the majority of our supply coming from logged in users. But when you look at the average publisher in the United States or globally they’re login rates are below 10%, in some cases below 5%.

Gio Gardelli:
So when you take the same amount of dollars and try to spend them on 5% of the supply, prices go up. And when prices go up, performance goes down. On the other side, you have the rest of the supply that becomes unaddressable, trades at a heavy discount, anywhere between 30 to 60%, depending on which industry report you are reading. What we see at Yahoo is kind of in the middle, around the 40s, 50s, but it’s much harder to buy because it’s harder to target and it’s harder to measure.

Gio Gardelli:
We believe ultimately the advertisers will win are the ones who will find a way to use both at their advantage. And use the supply that is addressable and will trade at a premium as the way, not just to target those users on a one to one basis, but also to learn and then apply those learnings on the remainder of the supply that will actually be trading at the discount. And so even if it’s harder to target and measure, the discount and the lower CPMs will actually make it just as effective in our opinion.

Gio Gardelli:
We’re actually starting to see some of those results in our own platforms. We have launched Yahoo ConnectID as our solution for addressable. We have recently launched NextGen Solutions as our solution for the non-addressable world. And we’re starting to see that advertisers that tap into both really unlock those synergies, unlock incremental reach and unlock cost efficiencies.

Kyle Hollaway:
So you mentioned their ConnectID. Can you give our listeners a little more synopsis on what ConnectID is and how potentially they could take advantage of that?

Gio Gardelli:
Sure. ConnectID is Yahoo’s identity solution for the cookieless or identitiless world. It is built on the foundation of our logged in users where we have an email address and additional data about a user. And it comes with a lot of reach signals that Yahoo users provide to us when using our products and services. The vast majority of our users have age and gender attached to their profile declared by them, reach mail data, search data and content engagement signals, and so on.

Gio Gardelli:
So it’s not just the empty folder of a user ID and an identifier that comes with it, but it also has a lot of audience data and it is available exclusively on our DSP and our SSP, but we allow any advertiser, any publisher and any data partner for measurement and activation to integrate with ConnectID and become interoperable with us and enable trading at scale.

Gio Gardelli:
To date we have over 11,000 unique publisher domains that have deployed ConnectID across our ecosystem, including publishers like Buzzfeed, The Arena Group which is formerly known as Mavens, CAF Media and Mediavine. And we have seen increases in CPMs on publishers who have deployed ConnectID as up to 80% because of a better addressability. And we also on the demand side, we have over 1,200 advertisers that have already activated their first party data through ConnectID by uploading hashed emails into our system.

Gio Gardelli:
And last but not least, we have a few thousand partners that help us serve our customers in areas where we can’t support them as well as them like Acxiom, which helps us on activation and measurement, and helps advertisers providing this unified view of their campaigns and performance across all channels. And so we have been really focused on driving adoption on all three fronts and expanding our capabilities more and more.

Dustin Raney:
And obviously you mentioned Acxiom we’re the one at the end that you talked about there and the partnerships to help enable some of these connections when it comes to leveraging partnerships like that, can you help our listeners understand maybe a little bit about how we work to maximize those opportunities in connecting advertisers and publishers and things like that? What would you say has been kind of one of the better ways that we’ve kind of worked together to inform and connect this new ecosystem?

Gio Gardelli:
Yeah, absolutely. Well, the one thing that is really important for us is to make sure that we remove as much friction as possible from our tools for advertisers and publishers. And so the integration we have with Acxiom enables advertisers to activate on their data or use third party data that Acxiom provides with no code. The segments can be onboarded into our platform with, I’m sure just a few clicks, the integration between the Acxiom ID and ConnectID happens behind the scenes.

Gio Gardelli:
We take care of that through APIs and the segments “auto-magically” show up in our platforms to be targeted. That’s the first great piece of the integration. And again, we take the complexity away from our users. And the second piece is on the measurement side, when advertisers want to have a holistic view of their campaigns across all channels, beyond just the activity they have with us and our buying platforms, we want to remain open, we want to be as open as possible.

Gio Gardelli:
So we provide impression logs back to Acxiom re-keyed off of an Acxiom ID already and enable Acxiom and your customers to perform a third party, unbiased cross-channel measurement outside of our walls, again in an automated way that takes the complexity away from the users. And all of that is enabled by our interoperability framework that enables companies with their own ID to match their ID to ours and then talk to each other and send information back and forth.

Gio Gardelli:
I call it the Rosetta stone of identity where we have this translation layer between the different IDs. And we can understand, “Oh, your user 12345 is my user ABCD,” so every time I see ABCD I know that it’s 12345 for you and vice versa. And that enables us to talk to each other really.

Kyle Hollaway:
Yeah. Wow. That’s great. And it is refreshing because, I mean, obviously you guys have such a large platform and reach with your capabilities, but to have that interoperability and that view of really enabling brands to continue to really kind of take the best of breed of both, like you were saying both the addressable and then bringing in some of that contextual aspect and overlaying the two, even to do that. And Acxiom partnering with you all to bring that to our clients has been a great value add.

Kyle Hollaway:
So thank you so much. And I feel like we’re just barely scratching the surface of what we could talk about because there’s such a rich topic area and I know probably have a lot of other areas we could go into, but unfortunately we’re coming near to the close for our episode today.

Kyle Hollaway:
So talk a little bit… we always kind of end with the final question which is around the future. So projecting out, 2035 and what does the consumer engagement look like from your perspective in that timeframe? And is it a scarier more Orwellian type future, or do you see brighter days ahead for publishers and advertisers and consumers to interact?

Gio Gardelli:
I’m optimistic by nature so I definitely see a very bright future ahead of us. By 2030-2035 I believe it will have solved some of the transparency and consent issues that are top of mind today. I believe there’s going to be much more awareness on the user side around the value of their data, the control they have, and the value exchange with publishers and their offerings. I think there will be more choices. I think users would be able to control their data and control their experiences and how they want to exchange it in exchange for services from publishers.

Gio Gardelli:
And I think publishers would’ve done… and the adtech ecosystem in general would’ve done a much better job by then to articulate the value of letting us use your data in exchange for keeping products and services free. I see a future that has more, again, more transparency, more consent and more awareness where those problems are not problems anymore. They’re just things that we solved and we have moved on to the next challenge.

Kyle Hollaway:
Love that. And it’s always good to hear those good, positive views of the future. And I think we’re certainly aligned on there. We see a lot of great innovation coming and times like this, when there is uncertainty new opportunities arise and it’s great working with companies like Yahoo that are really looking at the consumer and putting them at the center of all that you’re doing and then helping brands to be able to connect there. So thank you. And that does bring us to a close for today’s episode. So Gio, thank you so much for joining and taking the time to share your wisdom with us.

Gio Gardelli:
Absolutely. Thanks for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

Kyle Hollaway:
Yeah. Thank you and it’s great to hear your insider view. And so I know that we’re going to probably tap into you again in future episodes to explore some of the other areas that we didn’t get to today.

Gio Gardelli:
Absolutely.

Dustin Raney:
We didn’t talk about the metaverse Kyle, come on.

Kyle Hollaway:
I know, I know, we got to, I’m sure Yahoo’s got something going in the background, so we’ll definitely have a metaverse-centric session and we can talk about because advertisers are going to be in the metaverse. And so I know we can figure something out to talk about.

Kyle Hollaway:
I do want to thank all our listeners for joining us and for information about the podcast and to find previous episodes, please visit acxiom.com/realtalk or find us on your favorite podcast service. And we look forward to releasing another Real Talk about Real Identity episode in the near future. Good day, everyone.