Criteo’s Brendan McCarthy on Retargeting Customers After the End of Third-Party Cookies

Criteo’s Brendan McCarthy on Retargeting Customers After the End of Third-Party Cookies

Interview by Maja SkokleskaMaja Skokleska
Published: July 04, 2023

Who Is Brendan McCarthy

Brendan McCarthy has 20+ years of Fortune 500 strategic marketing and communications experience, including roles as SVP of Corporate and Public Affairs at Edelman and SVP, Head of Communications and Product Marketing at Nielsen Global Media. Brendan currently serves as the CMO at Criteo where he leads the company’s marketing and communication teams.

Third-party cookies have played a big role in retargeting consumers and winning back their interest in specific offerings. However, with Google’s decision to eliminate cookies by the end of 2024, 98% of marketers are now taking steps to prepare for a cookieless future, as per Epsilon research.

In fact, 69% of them plan to rely on the expertise of various agency partners and vendors, particularly to employ first-party data strategies.

Enter Criteo, a leading commerce media platform and one of Google’s Privacy Sandbox’s largest scaled partners, which allows advertisers, retailers, and publishers to harness first-party data to execute digital advertising campaigns effectively.

In this interview, we speak to Brendan McCarthy, Chief Marketing Officer at Criteo, who introduces our readers to the platform and how it works.

Brendan also talks about commerce media and how it is reshaping the digital advertising industry.

Criteo's logo

Spotlight: Commerce media is a big thing in the marketing world and is reshaping the digital advertising industry. For those not familiar with the term, what is this approach, how does it work, and how does it benefit marketers and media owners?

Brendan McCarthy: Commerce media enables marketers to reach consumers in-market for a product or service wherever they are in their shopping journey through data activation and advanced AI.

In addition, it allows marketers beyond the traditional retail sector to harness first-party data to drive digital advertising campaigns effectively. Companies that invest in commerce media can utilize large-scale first-party data to accurately define and reach their target audiences with digital campaigns across retailers’ websites, the open internet, and everywhere shoppable moments happen. This allows for the creation of personalized promotions and relevant ads tailored to their current or potential customers at moments when their intent is at its highest.

Marketers and media owners utilizing commerce media gain an edge over the competition as consumers want personalization and are becoming more hesitant to commit to purchasing with so many options available. Campaigns leveraging first-party data have an increased reach to target audiences with increased brand awareness at a higher rate, leading to increased sales.

An example of a marketer outside the retail sector that's leveraging commerce media is Uber, one of Criteo’s partners. Through this partnership, we provide the underlying technology for consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands to promote themselves and their products in the Uber Eats app through sponsored ads.

What’s the difference between retail media and commerce media and how do these two intersect on the open web?

While many speak of retail and commerce media interchangeably, retail media is actually a subset of commerce media that focuses on brand-funded advertising on retailers’ sites. Commerce media expands the opportunity to allow non-traditional retailers, like grocers and last-mile delivery companies, to harness first-party data to drive additional revenue opportunities.

Commerce media focuses on connecting people to the products and services they love, wherever they spend their time — including eCcommerce sites or apps. It is one of the driving forces behind why we’ve seen a boom in retailers offering paid advertising on their sites and launching their own ad networks throughout recent years. Retailers can use retail media to monetize their data, a growing trend to create diverse revenue streams in light of the current macroeconomic challenges across both digital channels and in the physical world. And commerce media extends that opportunity to all types of businesses and marketplaces that have a direct touchpoint with consumers.

Criteo advertise snapshot

Criteo, one of the major players among commerce media companies, is on a mission to help marketers and media owners drive better commerce outcomes. Please introduce the platform and how it works.

At Criteo, commerce is at the center of everything we do. We’ve undergone a complete transformation from a performance-focused, single-product company to offering an outcomes-focused, multi-product Commerce Media Platform.

Specifically, we launched two specific solutions that will help retailers, publishers, and agencies capitalize on the commerce media opportunity. In June 2022, we launched Commerce Max, our Demand-side Platform that allows brands to scale retailer audiences from their owned sites across the open internet. Most recently, we launched Commerce Grid, the first Supply-side Platform (SSP) that’s built for commerce and unites the buy and sell sides of advertising.

Criteo is the leader in commerce media, the next wave of digital advertising, combining large-scale commerce data and AI to deliver richer consumer experiences from product discovery to purchase. All our solutions help our clients thrive in a ‘commerce everywhere’ environment with benefits for all parties, including more personalized advertising for consumers, better return on ad spend for marketers, and diversified revenue streams for publishers and retailers.

How Criteo helps marketers and media owners drive better commerce outcomes and find addressable audiences can be broken down into a two-prong approach.

First, we leverage several addressable solutions, such as consistent IDs like hashed email, and are exploring Google's Privacy Sandbox Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

Second, Criteo’s own powerful AI finds in-market shoppers based on the identifiers and signals mentioned prior. Our AI learns from the billions of data points that make up our commerce dataset often referred to as our “truth set.”

How does Criteo differentiate itself from competitors such as Amazon and Microsoft? What does it take to serve over 19,000 customers worldwide and be trusted by notable brands such as Shopify, P&G, and Best Buy?

There has been strong traction within the retail and commerce media space over the last few years and Criteo has been at the forefront of this innovation since 2016 when we acquired HookLogic. Today, Criteo partners with 200 retailers, including half of the top 25 in the U.S., and over 2,300 brands, illustrating the opportunity and size of the industry.

As online and offline advertising continues to merge, retailers are recognizing that they require a fully integrated commerce future in order to be successful in reaching their audiences. Recently, Criteo acquired Brandcrush, which provides an omnichannel retail media monetization platform that centralizes inventory management for online and offline, which is emerging as the next frontier. Through this acquisition, Criteo is simplifying how brands buy and sell media while also addressing the pain points of retailers worldwide that are often relying on antiquated processes or trying to combine retail media into legacy customer relationship systems.

What’s more, Criteo capitalizes on 100% of the commerce media market, 90% of which is currently onsite, 10% offsite – and creates even more value through their interplay. In essence, Criteo is Amazon advertising for the rest of the internet that exists outside walled gardens.

What role does AI play in Criteo's commerce platform?

For over 18 years, Criteo has been taking advantage of advances in AI, enabling us to bridge from understanding to predicting consumer behavior. To that end, in 2018, we launched the Criteo AI Lab to better unify R&D efforts at Criteo and drive innovation in the broader AI community.

The AI Lab focuses on developing and integrating state-of-the-art AI research into advertising production systems, as well as pushing forward the industry’s common understanding of AI techniques. We frequently publish research at conferences, develop open-source software, contribute to online machine learning repositories, and release datasets that can serve as benchmarks, while remaining committed to the highest ethical standards.

When thinking about our platform, the combination of Criteo’s highly advanced machine learning technology and more than $1 trillion in commerce sales every year allows our solution to drive the best performance for clients and tailor engaging placements for consumers. Criteo’s predictive AI identifies the best path to conversion, removing uncertainty and leading to better advertising outcomes.

With Google’s plan to remove third-party cookies by the end of 2024, how do you think advertisers will be affected? What are ways they can retarget customers after cookies are gone?

Both commerce and retail media are first-party data-driven solutions that allow advertisers to win in addressable, signal-limited environments. With Google planning to remove third-party cookies later in 2024, Criteo’s Commerce Media Platform enables its clients to leverage their first-party data assets to reach and engage their audiences without third-party identifiers.

We’re also testing interoperable IDs, data clean rooms, and other solutions to help solve data matching in privacy-safe ways. We’ve been working side-by-side with Google Chrome in the Privacy Sandbox to ensure the output of their efforts results in a privacy-preserving solution for our clients that provides precision, scale, and viable economics.

Criteo remains one of the largest scaled partners in the Privacy Sandbox and our product and engineer teams recently hosted several in-person workshops with the Chrome team, as well as shared a number of our findings publicly to inform their APIs and outline how the advertising industry needs to evolve for privacy.

You recently announced the launch of “Agency Challenge”. What’s the idea behind this initiative and what does it aim to achieve?

Educating clients on this fast-growing space is extremely important to us here at Criteo and Commerce Academy is designed to support marketers as they grow their expertise in commerce media and become certified on Criteo’s industry-leading Commerce Media Platform.

The Criteo Commerce Academy Agency Challenge is specific to the South Asia-Pacific (SEA and India) market. Through the challenge, we’re inviting anyone working in a performance marketing or advertising agency in this region to grow their professional skills and become certified commerce media experts.

Throughout the learning journey, individuals are prompted to complete three compulsory certification courses that will help advance their career in digital advertising and succeed in marketing on the open internet. All individuals aged 18 years or older, who are employed under a digital/performance marketing or advertising agency in the SEA region and India, can register for the Agency Challenge.

These individuals benefit by deepening their knowledge of digital advertising and gaining platform experience by completing courses on the fundamentals of commerce media and learning how to use Criteo’s Commerce Media platform. Participants can also become commerce media certified by earning verified LinkedIn certification badges.

Given the rise of online marketplaces, and DesignRush being one, how do you see this sector evolving, and how can they manage media campaigns effectively?

Marketplaces provide an interesting opportunity when it comes to programmatic and commerce media, specifically. This is because marketplaces are inherently data-rich, providing ample fuel for algorithms that power machine learning decisions.

As we go deeper into the golden age of AI, we expect to see more and different types of businesses explore the marketplace model, seeking to put their robust data to work.

Lastly, given our primarily B2B audience, what are effective ways companies operating in the B2B commerce sector can leverage to advertise and promote themselves?

At the end of the day, everyone is a consumer, so business-to-business (B2B) companies are still advertising to consumers. As such, these companies can apply the same lessons and learnings as business-to-consumer (B2C) companies to acquire and retain customers. For example, these companies can capitalize on first-party data as advertising moves toward a cookieless future.

Thank you for your time, Brendan McCarthy. Best of luck to you and Criteo!

Keep up with Criteo on LinkedIn and read about other successful businesses here.


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