Third-party cookie deprecation can’t come quickly enough

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It seems like everyone in the digital marketing sphere is either losing sleep over the soon-to-be deprecation of third party cookies and device advertising identifiers, or has invented “The One Solution!” that will allegedly replace these IDs and/or behavioral advertising entirely.

Putting aside for a moment that cookies were never intended to be used as ad targeting or effectiveness vehicles (because then otherwise, we’d need to grapple with the similar thought that the Internet itself was never envisioned as an advertising medium, which… ugh), it is important to acknowledge that the sky is not falling, behavioral targeting will not disappear, contextual-only is not the answer, and there won’t be any one single solution that provides a global solve. 

Rather than viewing the forthcoming changes as being apocalyptic, we should instead embrace this opportunity to reinvent how we think of targeting and attribution, along with interest based advertising itself: are marketers getting what they paid for? Are publishers earning a fair price for their media? Are consumers being empowered with the choice and consent they are entitled to around how their data are used? 

And how important are third party cookies, really, in a marketing landscape that is rapidly migrating towards connected TVs? How reliant do we want to be on commercial entities with a profit motive to govern the use and distribution of next generation identifiers?

How can we provide a better consumer experience while preserving marketers’ ability to reach their customers and understand if and how their advertising is working?

Here’s the thing: cookie-bombing the Internet in search of attribution credit was never a great approach, anyhow. Success should be measured by incrementality and by attribution techniques that prove causality, not by yesterday’s metrics. Ad effectiveness measurement will evolve, but it won’t go away.

And as far as targeting is concerned, there are several solutions that have been written about ad infinitum, so we won’t get into them here. Suffice to say that multiple, competing standards will emerge and marketers will be well-suited to avoid making exclusive commitments to any individual one of them: navigating these waters will require flexibility and agility, and there’s really no upside in betting on a horse now. 

(Also, contextual-only solutions aren’t the answer. Marketers have rightly become accustomed to the efficiency advantages inherent to behavioral advertising. Contextual advertising certainly has a seat at the table, but it can’t and won’t be the only precision targeting modality.) 

Here’s how we think this is going to play out:

  1. Firstly, the future will be kind to marketers who embrace the unknown. These changes are good for consumers and that, in and of itself, makes them worth the temporary uncertainty. Besides, the old ways were at best inefficient, and at worst virtually useless.
  2. There will be multiple, equally-valid answers: despite lots of chest-thumping, no one in the industry knows precisely how the future will unroll. Take all free advice on this topic (including mine!) with a healthy grain of salt. Ask lots of questions, and don’t tolerate any hand-waving. For instance, if you’re speaking with an ID solution provider, ask them what percentage of mainstream, multi-channel SSP traffic currently carries their identifier?
  3. Now is not the time to lock yourself into a single-point solution -- it can be tempting to seek a grand, unified answer that promises to make the new days just like the old days. But there are still far too many unknowns to justify committing yourself to any one solution. Be agile enough to work with multiple emerging standards. And take the time to consider whether any solution you are considering is meaningfully better than the old cookie-based approach: does it have scale? Does it respect consumers? Does it help you manage your marketing to real-world outcomes? Does it let you attribute fairly? 

So, where does that leave us?

Targeting and attribution may be a bit shaky for a while, but any temporary inefficiencies will soon give way to marketing approaches that are more accountable, more grounded in the things that actually matter to brands and agencies, and that are more respectful to consumers. Keep an open mind and play the field -- explore a variety of solutions and rally behind the ones that make the most sense for your business and objectives.

Remember, this is a good thing. 

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