Rachel Smith

Google, Amazon, Facebook & Apple (GAFA) are four household names you’ll be very familiar with, and likely have already interacted with today. Their growth has accelerated at an exponential rate, but they remain bodies of distrust across users, whereby a mere 14% of people believe that Facebook respects their privacy¹ (Amazon receives the highest endorsement at a paltry 32%)². The main functionality of these tech giants manifest differently for advertisers and users, but one thing remains constant - they harvest gigantic amounts of data. These data banks are notorious for leveraging the vast quantity and richness of this data to create digital city-states, figuratively known as ‘Walled Gardens’.

What is a Walled Garden?

A ‘Walled Garden’ refers to a closed ecosystem whereby one central leader calls the shots, exerting full control of the data generated within the four walls. This venus fly trap is the dominant approach adopted by the GAFA giants who use their economic clout to preserve information and power. Lockdown of data is achieved by obligating advertisers to use the platforms full marketing stack - inclusive of their DMP (data-management-platform), their DSP (demand-side-platform) and their DCO (dynamic-creative-optimisation). Enforcement of this exclusive relationship generates colossal amounts of data within the platform, which are then confined by strict data sharing policies. 

The give-take relationship within Walled Gardens

The appointments of Walled Gardens are motivated by the desire to safeguard data assets and ensure zero data leakage. Advertisers are lured into these platforms by the large audiences, accurate targeting and cheap ads. However, the sacrifices made in return can be significantly detrimental to the visibility and progress of ad campaigns. To be specific, in Walled Gardens, advertisers lose out in two key areas:

A lack of transparency and a lack of ownership

As the Walled Garden metaphor suggests, advertisers are kept at an arms reach from their campaigns and cannot see what is happening within. One problem is that this facilitates the potential for data to be misinterpreted. For example, in the past Facebook has been known to inflate their potential audience reach by up to 41% in specific demographics³. 

These public companies do allow advertisers to bring their own data to the platform for user journey mapping and data enrichment, but here’s the catch - they seldom allow data flow from outside their system to another system (e.g. the advertisers CRM or an analytics partner). Instead, the advertiser's data is siloed and aggregate measures of performance are provided. This severely disadvantages advertisers who want to sync data across all of their channels and align it with their own first-party customer data. As a result, advertisers must rely on analytics and attribution shared by GAFA, bypassing first and third-party verification.

*Real-world Walled Garden Example*

Apple has announced a new single sign-on feature in the iOS 13 update, aptly named Sign In With Apple, allowing users to sign into apps and websites simply by using their Apple ID. As a result, advertisers will lose the capability of data syncing across the programmatic ecosystem.

Being in the dark about when to chop and change campaign approach also leads to critical productivity failings. Speed and efficiency of data insights are vital for successful campaigns because the value of the data is diminished if it can't be used in real time. As data is not freely available in Walled Gardens, huge insights and investments are wasted. 

This inequitable concealment does prompt you to wonder, what do these tech titans do with the whole data set? This is a contentious topic for the UK government who are currently calling for the regulation and monitoring of Facebook over numerous self-policing failings⁴ and the potential exploitation of data to influence UK and US elections⁵.

Where is the real opportunity found?

Reflection on these Walled Gardens kindles a reminiscent air of the original ‘Walled Garden’ invented by AOL in the 1990s. AOL users were charged a subscription for a limited, AOL-centric view of the internet - essentially existing as an AOL intranet. Unsurprisingly, this failed when users recognised the other, superior options available. Growing wise to scaremongering tactics intended to prevent advertisers from straying outside of these platforms, the advertising landscape is again shifting to a new age of lucrative ad campaigns. For example, AT&T is championing transparency and access to data of ad campaigns by responding to Walled Gardens with the creation of open ecosystems known as ‘community gardens’⁶. The benefits of these open eco-systems are comparable to, if not significantly better than those of the Walled Gardens GAFA platforms create, and most importantly, don’t involve signing your life away! Some of these include:

The benefits beyond the Walled Garden


If you want to learn more about how you can navigate ad campaigns outside of the Walled Garden get in touch with the Adludio team at hello@adludio.com.