Clean rooms have moved from buzzword to bottom line

Clean rooms are growing up. The former buzzword du jour of ad tech has matured, no longer just a shiny, new privacy tool, but something that can potentially help brands boost sales, advertisers told Marketing Brew.

Two years ago, clients led with questions about data privacy. Today, they’re asking about how the tech can impact the bottom line, Drew Paquette, VP of product at clean-room tech company Optable, explained.

“We trust that your team and your technology is capable of doing and delivering upon what it needs to in terms of privacy protection. But let’s move past that and talk about dollars and cents. How does it help me day to day?” he said, referencing questions he gets from clients.

Privacy, please

Though there are some nuances, data clean rooms essentially let advertisers, publishers, and platforms share their first-party customer data in a privacy-safe way. Earlier this year, an IAB study found that two-thirds of advertisers “leveraging privacy-preserving technology” were using them.

Google and Amazon operate their own clean rooms, as do publishers such as Disney and NBCUniversal. As retail media continues to grow, retailers like Kroger and Walgreens also have clean-room offerings, while software companies like InfoSum and Habu offer the tech as well.

Over the past few years, clean rooms have become a solution to help address privacy legislation in Europe and in the US, not to mention the impending loss of the third-party cookie.

Plus, the tech has benefited from an acknowledgement that, well, it seems as though everything is an advertising network, whether it’s Instacart, Kroger, or Marriott, Lauren Wetzel, COO of InfoSum, explained. “It’s gone from a curiosity to a more fundamental understanding of why it exists,” she said.

Clean up

While clean rooms were initially pitched as tools geared toward privacy-oriented data sharing, marketers are beginning to see their impact on sales.

It helps that the technology has become more accessible from a user perspective, Therran Oliphant, SVP and head of data and technology at media agency EssenceMediacom, told us, adding that the clean-room space “definitely has matured.” Oliphant said that since the agency is aiming to use data to buy media, it has been “putting a lot of pressure on the clean-room space to enable more integrations, whether they be direct or through some kind of data network.”

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“It’s been slower than we want, but there has been definite progress in that arena,” he said. Oliphant also noted that the technology has become “a lot more democratized,” meaning it’s easier to use.

Job-searching platform Indeed used Disney’s clean-room tech for a campaign that ran on Hulu last year, resulting in a 41% lift in “job seekers” visiting its site and a 33% lift in employers, compared to a control group of people who didn’t see the ad. More than 100 brands have used Disney’s clean room for planning, buying, and measurement, Adweek reported this summer.

In September, InfoSum published a case study of a campaign run by Channel 4 and Nectar360, an agency that manages loyalty data for UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. Using InfoSum’s clean room, CPG companies like Pepsi could target and measure audiences pulled from an overlapping data set created by the two companies, like customers who buy soda or dairy, or customers who shop in-store or online. Overall, the campaign generated a sales “uplift” of 29%, and up to 122% for CPGs, compared to a control group that didn’t see the campaign—and the case study only uses the word “privacy” once.

What’s next?

In some instances, clean rooms are just experiencing a natural evolution. Technology takes time. But the tech has also been recognized by industry trade organizations like the IAB, which published standards, guidance, and recommendations for clean-room technology earlier this year.

Still, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach to clean rooms, Ted Flanagan, chief customer officer at Habu, explained. Each clean-room provider can still play by their own rules, have different pricing structures, and require varying levels of expertise when using them. The technology isn’t standardized yet, but the push from the IAB has given Habu’s clients “a degree of clarity…that this is probably something I need to be looking at,” Flanagan said.

As the tech gains traction, Habu is moving beyond just advertising. It recently worked with a fintech payment processing company, which Flanagan declined to name, that used Habu’s clean room to analyze customer behavior: Which customers use Apple Pay and which customers use credit cards? What’s the product’s market share versus competitors?

“It’s insights on consumer behavior, but it definitely falls outside of the traditional advertising and marketing application,” he said.

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