Innovator Insights: Undertone’s Daniel Aks and Kim Leone

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Based in New York, Undertone describes itself as a rich media creative agency that creates memorable advertising experiences across advanced TV, social media and more.

Daniel Aks describes the need for a privacy-first approach to advertising emerging like a train coming out of a tunnel — a train that had the words, “The end of third-party cookies” emblazoned on the side of its engine. 

Rather than wait on some metaphorical platform for that train to arrive, however, both the president of Undertone (UT)  and UT’s COO tasked the Perion Hub (Perion LTD <NASDAQ - PERI> is UT’s parent company) development team with creating something to head it off at the pass. 

“It represented a big potential challenge for us,” Aks told Brand Innovators. “And the charge we made to our team was that whatever we created had to at least match third party cookies in terms of performance.”

Based in New York, Undertone describes itself as a rich media creative agency that creates memorable advertising experiences across advanced TV, social media and more. Even though Google has made ongoing changes to its plans to depreciate third-party cookies, Undertone has had to stay one step ahead of privacy in order to meet the expectations of clients and consumers alike. 

“We started seeing more and more RFPs asking, ‘Are you GDPR compliant? Are you CCPA compliant?’” said Kimberly Leone, Undertone’s senior vice president of emerging business, marketing and strategic services. 

Consumer awareness of tactics like retargeting, meanwhile, has been growing — Undertone published a survey last December showing 87% of respondents have noticed when an advertisement follows them around. 

At the same time, browsers like Firefox have been removing cookies by default. “So if you were just using cookie based tactics, you were already missing out on that entire audience,” Leone said.

SORT is the technology outcome of the R&D investment in Perion’s Intelligent HUB – a platform that pulls in signals from all of Perion’s demand and supply assets. According to Aks, the vision has been to deliberately take a more multi-dimensional approach to targeting that avoids the limitations and tradeoff of traditional technologies. 

“Normally these tools essentially reduce you to a historical database,” he said, using personas like “Mom” to determine what ads someone will see. “We get rid of that whole notion. We don't look at what you've done in the past. We look at what you're doing now — what were you reading, what were your mouse clicks, how much time are you dwelling? What’s the weather like outside?”

This means SORT can help brands adapt and optimize their campaigns based on consumer behavior gathered real time, Aks added. 

Beyond transcending the use of cookies, Aks and Leone had some other advice on shifting to privacy-first marketing: 

Protecting Privacy Isn’t A Courtesy — It’s A Form Of Safety

While brand managers may be devouring the latest marketing books to hone their strategy, Aks says his thinking was informed by The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

Written by one of Aks’s former professors, Shoshana Zuboff, the book laid bare the dangers of companies that operate without meaningful mechanisms of consent from the people they’re monitoring and analyzing. For Aks, it was a good reminder that putting privacy first is the ultimate form of customer-centricity. 

“We always hear about brand safety, right? What about user safety? Where's that?” he asked. “My advice to brands would be that if you care about your ad appearing next to an article that is somehow bad, you also need to care about the user experience and how they’re getting tracked.”

Your Approach To Privacy Needs To Be As Visible As Your Ads

We’re all bombarded by pop-ups warning us about cookies when we arrive on a web site, but no one can be sure what will happen when we’re looking at or clicking on an ad. 

This could explain another key takeaway from Undertone’s survey, where nearly three quarters (74%) said they would like advertisements to have a clearly visible seal guaranteeing that the brand is not tracking. SORT allows this, but Leone said the point is for brands to be proactive in how they demonstrate their care for their audience’s personal information.

“Don't wait — be the leader,” Leone said. “Be the one in front of this, because those are the brands that consumers are going to favor. Those are the brands that consumers are going to want to work with.”

Privacy-First Advertising Can Drive Greater Performance And Results

Leone said Neutronian, an independent auditor of data quality, has verified that SORT can outperform traditional cookie-based methods across all KPIs up to 2X. 

Aks said this reinforces the fact that brands shouldn’t see respecting consumer privacy as a necessary evil that limits their ability to achieve their marketing goals. Instead, he said their focus should be on coupling privacy with high-impact advertising that surprises and delights audiences. Doing so leads to an emotional response that translates directly into bottom line results, he said. 

“You can look at click throughs and engagements and all those typical KPIs. But the real question is, are you getting share of voice and share of market in the end?” he said. “I would rather see my sales rising and know it’s because I'm doing good things in advertising.”

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