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SDAs (Seller-Defined Audiences) promise greater audience control for marketers

The IAB Tech Lab is introducing a new “technical specification”, specifically termed “seller-defined audiences” (SDA), that promises to give publishers greater control over how their audiences—and, more crucially, their first-party data—are bought and sold. It was pitched to the industry during the IAB Tech Lab’s Addressability System Designs event. 

“It’s a very positive indication that publishers are gaining more control in the open web. We were only seen as supply. Now, we’re seen as supply, identity partners, as well as data providers, and that’s an exciting shift.”

– MICHA NUZZO, VP, HEAD OF HEARST DATA SOLUTIONS AT HEARST MAGAZINES.

Though publishers and industry folks say it could take time before it’s widely adopted, SDA could give advertisers another way to target audiences when tracking tools, like third-party cookies, die off.

There are many ways and platforms for brands to get statistics about their audience. They can get this data in multiple ways, like dropping first-party cookies or by asking them to log into an account. 

Using this data, SDAs would, theoretically, let publishers place their audiences into groups—whether by behaviour or interest—which would then be shared with advertisers to help them run targeted programmatic ads. So far, publishers can choose from roughly 1,600 available labels. 

For example, ​​if Dazed and Confused magazine knows Renee likes to read articles on racial politics, Black Power inspired fashion editorials and neo soul emerging artists and she’s explicitly told Dazed she likes Savage X Fenty and Erykah Badu (maybe by signing up for a newsletter or answering a survey ), Dazed can lump Renee into an audience of fans into those specific niches, which could then be bought and sold programmatically.

The IAB said it hopes publishers will incorporate the IAB’s own Data Transparency Label, sort of like a nutrition label for data, in which publishers detail how and why they labeled Renee to her niches.

If widely adopted by the industry, SDA would provide media buyers with scale and provide publishers with a new way to monetize their readers. So, if multiple publishers are using this standard, buys can be made across different outlets.

“It is the way in which publishers are going to be able to extract the most value from their first-party data,” said Jeff Burkett, VP of product at Gannett. “Today, you can buy data attributes from third parties, but you don’t really know how that came about.”

Though it’s “too early” to say how those tests are going, the essential part is DSP adoption. 

Though simple on paper, adoption within the ad tech ecosystem is no easy. And while targeting—reaching the right audiences with the right advertising—often gets the limelight, SDA doesn’t help advertisers with measurement. 

The IAB makes no claims about solving that specific piece of the equation but said that SDA could provide a foundation that measurement tools could be built upon.

Buyers will be testing Google’s Topics, SDA, and potentially hundreds of other identity and measurement solutions (clean rooms, anyone?) to replace the giant hole left by the impending death of third-party cookies. 

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