How The Delayed Death Of The Cookie Could Impact Advertisers, Publishers And Consumers


Hersh Patel, Founder and CEO, Hindsight.

Google’s recent announcement that it will delay the death of the third-party cookie until 2023 may have delighted some advertisers and publishers who get extra time to prepare for a new status quo in digital advertising. But I think rejoicing about the postponed demise of the cookie could be short-sighted and potentially come back to hurt advertisers, publishers and, of course, the consumers whose privacy these changes aim to protect.

The third-party cookie, which allows businesses to track consumers across websites with little transparency for internet users, is still going away. As the CEO of a contextual ad company, I think smart brands will shift spend away from cookies as soon as possible and embrace alternative ad targeting methods that protect consumer privacy and serve messages consumers want to see as they browse online.

Why is the third-party cookie going away?

Third-party cookies have become synonymous with the sordid deal driving the past decade of digital business: unfettered and untransparent tracking in exchange for free content.

To be sure, access to free content online is a benefit to consumers. What’s not beneficial is tracking them across websites without their knowledge, serving them ads they perceive as creepy and failing to communicate about what they’re giving up — their data — in exchange for content. Google’s choice to get rid of the third-party cookie is part of a broader shift toward more transparent and privacy-first solutions in digital marketing.

Delaying the cookie’s death could impact your business’ relationships with consumers.

Some businesses dependent on digital advertising have decried privacy changes, and it is true that they are not without their risks. Smaller players with less access to data and targeting know-how will likely have a harder time adjusting to the new state of affairs. I think Google and Apple should be clear about their intentions and give businesses due time to adjust.

Still, a more transparent digital advertising ecosystem is not only inevitable but also beneficial for both consumers and businesses. Tracking consumers without their permission and serving consumers ads they perceive as intrusive is not good business in my view; it undermines trust and often leads to consumers receiving messages to which they are not receptive because those messages have nothing to do with the content of their online journeys. Anyone who has been followed around the internet by a product they already bought or an ad for something they researched for work but have no interest in buying themselves can attest to the inefficiency of so-called personalized advertising, which often puts the person last.

This is why brands and publishers should not be lured into complacency by the cookie’s delayed death. The era of unbridled tracking and ad targeting is ending. Sticking to it could undermine both brands and publishers in the long run and do a disservice to consumers, who deserve transparent and consensual digital experiences.

Beyond the cookie: What can advertisers and publishers do now?

Forward-thinking advertisers and publishers will shift their marketing strategies away from the cookie and embrace alternative solutions. This is an exciting time for the industry, and several companies like AdTheorent, Prescient, Marpipe and more are stepping forward to drive innovative thinking and solutions for a cookieless future.

There are already options to build the future of digital advertising and brand experience outside the cookie, such as first-party data. Building a strategy around first-party data means requesting, not covertly capturing, audience information. Ask site visitors and customers for identifiers, such as an email address, and provide them the opportunity to learn more about why you’re asking for that data if they’re interested. This is especially crucial for smaller players with narrower audiences and thus less first party data-driven ad targeting capacity.

Advertisers and publishers can also explore contextual advertising as an alternative or complement to behavioral targeting. In my experiences running a contextual ad company, I’ve seen how this targeting can help advertisers to develop a more granular understanding of content in real time. With contextual ads, advertisers reach consumers based on the context of their online experiences.

For publishers getting started with contextual advertising, the first step is to identify the type of content you write about and categorize it into high-level segments, like sports or travel. Create a general taxonomy that you can then expose to brands within a buying mechanism to the open exchange so advertisers can buy against those categorized content signals.

The advertiser perspective is similar. First, advertisers must figure out which categories are most relevant for potential buyers. Find that taxonomy or set of categories that is going to fit your brand’s audience then focus on domains that fit those categories. It’s important to get as granular as possible. For instance, it’s one thing to have creative for all fitness content, but it’s better to have different creatives for weightlifting, yoga, etc. When you are just getting started with contextual, go for the general, broad-based category, but to maximize the power of contextual, you should home in on creating a granular taxonomy. Then, adjust the messaging for those different content categories.

The right mix at the beginning is typically a set of three or four fixed creatives, and then you can use the IAB taxonomy to understand the common content categories that fit. Finally, advertisers should set up to test from the beginning. Ensure you have a strong way to gather data in place so what works and doesn’t work is clear. As you develop contextual strategies, don’t try to recreate the wheel. Focus on getting your feet wet and figuring out how to optimize.

Cookies are going away, and that’s not something to fear. The bottom line is that advertisers and publishers should prepare now for the imminent death of the cookie and a shift away from behavioral targeting in online advertising. Furthermore, they should not fear that shift. Rather, they should embrace alternatives and welcome a period of digital experiences that will be more transparent for consumers and equally effective for publishers and brands.


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