What Are 'Clean Rooms' -- And Why Do Amazon, Google, Facebook Want One?

The advertising industry seems to have adopted the term “clean room,” which originates from the semiconductor industry, where it refers to a room that is atmospherically isolated from external environments to reduce airborne particles and electromagnetic interference.

The semiconductor industry uses these clean rooms to ensure that the semiconductors built into smartphones, computers and other electronic devices are pure and clean from any outside interference. 

The advertising industry apparently wants to do the same with data. It is a way for brand marketers or agency representatives to sit down with reps from Amazon, Google or Facebook to gain insights into targeting consumers based on specific behavior using data from both parties. But when they leave the room, each will part without taking the other’s raw data with them from the table.

“You can see the data and the insights from the data, but you can’t leave the room with them, said Lora Parker, VP of media services at agency PMG. “You won’t know how the findings were calculated or have the ability to re-pivot the data.”



The concept seems simple. The brand would bring its data to the table. Amazon would bring its data to the table. They would combine the data at the table and determine a way to gain additional insights. It will be different for every advertiser, Parker said, adding that it is an airtight, environment where nothing leaves the room.

“As an agency it would work best to have one clean room hosted by a neutral third party,” she said. “You hear about CPG companies having a clean room, but I don’t know how those are being set up.”

This has become a way for brands and agencies to use the data, but also a way for Amazon, Google, and Facebook to ensure the data is not shared with third parties.

Parker first began hearing the term in mid-2017, with Facebook one of the first.

There is no way to gain access to the data remotely. Brands and agencies need to go to the location to access the data. The owner of the clean room controls the environment.

“We’ve had the most experience with clean rooms and Google,” she said. “Their Ad Data Hub is their version of the clean room, but it’s a work in progress.”

Brands running a prospecting campaign typically will not have much information on the customer based on the data, and they will need to reply on Amazon to target specific customers. At the end of the day, the brands ask whether that customer really converts.

“Let’s say I’m investing $100,000, but I really don’t know if that particular customer is the one converting,” Parker said. “It’s a better way to understand the people you’re targeting and how to cross-sell on platforms like Amazon.”

The concept is in its infancy, with much work to be done, Parker said -- adding that it may not solve the challenges around walled gardens and data, but it represents a beginning in the process of understanding what is working and what is not in a media plan.

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