Third-Party Cookies Won’t Die, but They Will be Re-Purposed: Q&A with Tanzil Bukhari

Tanzil BukhariAfter over ten years working for DoubleClick and then Google, industry veteran Tanzil Bukhari has joined media measurement company DoubleVerify as managing director of EMEA, the company announced today. VAN spoke with Bukhari to hear his views on the key challenges around ad fraud, and whether he thinks browser restrictions and privacy laws will result in the death of the third party cookie.

Why did you decide to leave Google?
Leaving Google was more of a decision based on the time I’ve spent there – I’ve been with DoubleClick and Google for over ten years, and the industry is really vibrant. There’s a lot of smaller, innovative organisations that are making some headway. I joined DoubleClick and Google to head up the DoubleClick Ad Exchange, and one of the things I saw was the amount of individuals and organisations that were driving change and innovation in the industry. Over the years years I was there as the industry matured and our business got bigger, you move away from that cutting edge and the parts of the industry that are driving innovation. So I felt after ten years it was high time to get into an earlier stage business, where I could drive change for a new company, but also the industry.

Are we winning the war on ad fraud?
I think so. They say in psychology the first step towards getting better is recognising there’s a problem. I think the industry is definitely doing that, there are more constituents in the industry who have expressed an interest in trying to help resolve problems around ad fraud. But we as an industry are still coming to terms with what we need to do as individual stakeholders, whether you’re an advertiser, an agency, a tech platform, or a DV type company. What’s our responsibility and how do we work together to resolve this very common problem? So the fact that the industry is now coming together is a great first step.

I think where I’m going to be spending my time over the next twelve to eighteen months is working with brands to help them understand, as it pertains to their specific brands and businesses, what are the right questions to be asking of people who are working across their businesses? What are the right queries that they need to be putting into the ecosystem when it comes to the inventory they’re buying, where it’s coming from etc. It always requires education, and DV can play a significant part in that in Europe.

What I’ve seen over the past three or four years is we’ve been asking “what do we need to do as the bare minimum?” And I think now as an industry we can push beyond that and ask when is it right to do much more? Because we have capabilities, environments and technologies now that allow us to do much more.

Which emerging forms of ad fraud, or devices on which ad fraud occurs, are DoubleVerify’s focus at the moment?
In terms of new environments, it’s much the same as you’ll hear elsewhere, the likes of OTT and connected-TV are big challenges. And any environments moving towards programmatic trading needs to have independent verification for brand safety and ad fraud.

But my specific focus in Europe is going to be making sure we’re doing the basics really well. We need to make sure mobile in both web and app are brand safe and ad fraud free. The number of ad fraud and brand safety challenges we’re seeing in the existing, older environments are continuing to increase. So we need to make sure that we’re getting better at solving those challenges.

So we’ll continue to ensure that all the shiny new toys are available, but for DV our focus is on making sure we’re doing the basics right. And if we’re protecting 80-90 percent of where people are spending their digital money today, and build that as our sound foundation, as we move into new areas it’ll be easier to have a solid product in all those new areas.

With browsers increasingly restricting third-party cookies and privacy regulations getting tighter, do you think the third-party cookie will die off? How would that affect your business?
I’m not sure that we’re going to see the death of the third-party cookie. There’s definitely more scrutiny of how we’re engaging with consumers, and right now that’s manifesting itself as a purge on third-party cookies. Google’s response to this is saying that from a targeting perspective, there is a need to get better at understanding what consumer intent is and give them control in determining how and where they’re being messaged to. So from a targeting perspective absolutely.

But I think everyone recognises the value of being able to measure accurately. And while the targeting element may continue to face pressure, on the measurement front we’re still in a relatively good space. So I’m one of those who don’t necessarily think we’ll see the death of the cookie, but I do think we’ll see a re-purposing of that technology for measurement and consumer protection.

In that scenario, whilst DV is primarily pixel-based, the focus for us is just about making sure we’re able to understand and measure and provide confidence to brands that their marketing is being applied in an environment that consumers see as fitting. And more importantly, in that same environment, the same data is extremely telling. So as direct cookie targeting fails or reduces in its usability, companies like DV are going to be in a position where the data and insight we can get from accurately measuring engagement can really help brands understand how to target consumers better. So without it being a cookie, we can measure how consumers are engaging, and then think about how we can leverage that data to also drive better understanding of the environments we’ve been targeting.

We hear sometimes from the buy-side that the sell-side is lagging behind with adoption of verification tech – is that true, and if so why is that the case?
I think it is true, and I think it’s a combination of a few things. The technology for fraud protection has been somewhat demand-side focussed, with innovation mostly happening on the demand-side. And part of DV’s plans looking ahead, following the acquisition of Zentrick, is to take our technology focussed approach and help the publishers better understand what exactly it is that they need to be doing, and which questions they need to be asking.

I also think ad fraud and brand safety have traditionally been seen as a demand-side problem, but I think now people are realising it’s not just a problem for brands, it’s an industry problem. It’s everybody’s responsibility to minimise ad fraud and ensure we’re maximising brand protection. As a tech platform in this space, DV has historically worked very closely with brands and agencies, but it’s our every intention to ensure we provide the same focus and intensity across the entire industry, including the publishers.

How important is it for ad fraud/verification solutions to be independent from the rest of the ecosystem?
Having worked for such a long time in that very area for Google and DoubleClick, I think there is some credibility to these larger players providing in-house solutions. But personally I think any organisation, especially when it comes to monetising inventory, has to have some sort of independent verification. We wouldn’t want anyone marking their own homework. And the reality is that as we see environments get more complicated, it starts to become much more difficult to get visibility in these environments, so independent platforms become even more important.

It’s not about policing the internet, it’s just about ensuring that there’s a secondary check into where brands are going to end up. Brands need to have confidence as they’re moving into new environments that they’re being properly protected, and that there are no ulterior motives. And independent providers can help build that confidence.

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