The Death of the Cookie Is the Symptom, Not the Illness

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The Death of the Cookie Is the Symptom, Not the Illness

Liane Nadeau

The advertising industry is at a tipping point. From the consumer perspective, expectations have never been greater. They want relevant experiences, but with respect for their privacy. They demand quality but expect convenience. 

On the other side, the technology landscape is more challenging than ever. The foundation upon which we enabled personalization—the third-party cookie—is crumbling, and regulations like CCPA and GDPR are making consumer-first experiences harder to create than ever before. 

It is easy to blame the “disappearance” of cookies for our new challenges as marketers. But that’s just a symptom of the real problem that browsers are now forcing us to address—eroded consumer trust. 

How we got here

The cookie was initially invented in the 1990s to enable e-commerce sites to remember what you had put in your shopping cart. As the technology became more pervasive and sophisticated, we continued to build upon its functionality—including for advertising. There were always flaws with the system, yet it took browsers like Firefox, Safari, and soon Google Chrome turning off third-party cookie tracking for the adtech ecosystem to realize they were building on a shaky foundation.

In recent years, privacy regulations have made consumers more aware of how their data is used, often without their knowledge or consent. In response, many implemented ad blockers and became more careful about where they shared their information, having lost trust in publishers and brands to use their data in a safe way that benefitted them.

Rebuilding the ecosystem with consent at the core

The only way to bring addressability into the future is to build a system with consent at its core. From the consumer perspective, this looks something like being asked if they are OK being targeted with messages they might find relevant or being educated on the value exchange of seeing advertisements in lieu of paying for premium content. Our new ecosystem must put consumer choice ahead of all else—only then will it be a suitable replacement for the long haul.

Much of the industry is buzzing around first-party cookies and the role they will play in the future of addressability. From a technology perspective, they are a knight in shining armor. By nature, first-party cookies are dropped by the publisher themselves, and enable features including persistent log in, site preferences, and cart capture. However, for first-party cookies to be a solution, they need to be joined by consumer consent.

Consumer consent can, and should, only be gathered by two parties: brands and publishers. Asking a consumer to give consent to an adtech middleman whose name means nothing to them will produce one of two results: 1) a lot of opt outs or 2) opt ins that don’t represent true consent. Adtech providers are necessary to enable consent to be passed along the supply chain and used in real time for messaging, but they should not be the party gaining consent. That should be left up to the parties a consumer is actually engaging with.

Preparing for the future

Marketers who begin preparing for the future of advertising now will have a disproportionate advantage over their competition. While there is no magic bullet, small-scale testing will lay the foundation for the future:

  1. Partner with publishers to understand what data they are collecting in a privacy-centric way that can be used for targeting audiences.
  2. Explore a consent framework for your brand. Brands and publishers are responsible for gaining consent from end users for targeting, and it’s important to begin standing that up now.
  3. Test new technologies that use an opt-in first-party cookie to find audiences. Be okay with a small scale to start—and be wary of any solutions that are able to scale quickly. It likely means they are just jerry-rigging the current system vs. doing the hard work of getting consumer opt-in.
  4. Consider alternatives to audience targeting. Often, more information can be uncovered about someone by what they are consuming in the moment than which segment they were profiled into weeks or months ago. Test contextual solutions that allow you to identify and connect with audiences at pivotal moments in their journey.
  5. Do everything with the customer in mind. Marisa Meyer said, “innovation is born from the interaction between constraint and vision.” The current state of media and advertising has handed us our constraint. It is up to us as marketers to keep our eye on the vision and build a solution to addressability in media that is sustainable for the long haul.

Originally published on LiveRamp 

Liane Nadeau

Liane Nadeau

SVP, Head of Precision Media & Investments

Liane is the Head of Precision Media and Investments for Digitas North America, overseeing audience-based buying, with a team of over 75 programmatic experts who take a data-first approach to media activation, nimbly moving through various data management and demand side platforms. Before joining Digitas, Liane spent five years at Hill Holliday, now Trilia Media, where she oversaw platform media buying for clients including Marshalls, HomeGoods, Liberty Mutual, and John Hancock. 

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