09 February 2020

That's the way the cookie crumbles: how to prepare for the cookieless future of programmatic


The digital world is becoming cookieless

In the last 10 years, the advertising world has harnessed data, mainly via the use of cookies, to learn more about consumer audiences and target them. But, malpractices leading to data breaches or scandals such as the infamous Cambridge Analytica affair with Facebook have raised concerns with consumers about what data is collected about them, by who, and how it is handled.

This has led the programmatic industry to evolve, putting consumer privacy front and center. The GDPR has led the way in ensuring data is handled with care, with the CCPA and regulation in other regions following suit. We’ve also seen voluntary changes in data security practices by walled gardens such as Facebook and Google, the latest of which is the removal of third party cookies from internet browsers. Safari blocked them in 2017, Firefox followed suit late last year, and now Google Chrome, which accounts for around 60% of browsing, has announced a two year transition period to do the same.


What does it mean for programmatic?

So advertising is going cookieless. The question on everyone’s lips is how do we support measurement, attribution and smart media buying for advertisers while respecting the privacy of consumers? 

The most important thing to remember is that tailored digital advertising isn’t going to go away - but the mechanisms used to deliver it will change to incorporate better privacy and choice for consumers. There are several changes taking place across the industry across both the open RTB environment, and “closed” environments too - focusing on diversifying to alternative data points and technologies that are becoming available.

Closed environments like Google are building “clean rooms” - privacy first collaborative analytics platforms that allow for data science solutions to be conducted on their data at an aggregated level, keeping information about individuals secure without hindering innovation. The most advanced clean room right now is Google’s Ads Data Hub (ADH).

Meanwhile, publishers have been focusing on educating their consumers about what it means to access free content, with initiatives like paywalls and memberships that help them collect alternative data points.

And anyone following the trade press will know that the OpenRTB ecosystem, made up of most non-walled garden programmatic tech, has been steadily consolidating through acquisitions, IPOs and in some cases, bankruptcy. It’s been a case of survival of the fittest, and those who survive are those who have been able to adapt to the changing privacy requirements by diversifying their offering.

These changes are good for agencies and advertisers. Lazy, murky practices such as cookie stuffing and bid listening are being stopped in their tracks, and the whole industry is being forced to re-think the value exchange with consumers and focus on quality media and quality data.


How to turn the threat into an opportunity

Start by talking to your partners about how they are future-proofing. Anybody who owns their own cookie space should already be adapting to the change in Chrome by labelling cookies, but there are a few ways you can plan ahead for the ultimate removal of third party cookies altogether.

  1. Get creative with cookieless channels. Contextual targeting is the obvious low-hanging fruit. But digital out of home, mobile, connected TV, and audio are all growing steadily to become the biggest channels for programmatic investment - and they also all happen to be cookieless. Our clients are already catching on - we’ve seen advanced contextual buying grow as a proportion of activation compared to audience buying in the last 12 months, and mobile has also grown considerably compared to display.
  2. Focus on eye-catching creative and messaging that users want to engage with. If your message is compelling enough, your CPA will fall and you’ll have less need for niche targeting. That’s why we’ve seen chatbot creative formats take off in many of our global markets. Using an engaging, interactive chatbot allows consumers to self-identify as being interested in a product.
  3. Build out your first party data. You have a legitimate relationship with consumers surfing your site and, if you continue to build on this data, you can unlock effective audience targeting by building out a cross-device identity graph. If you haven’t thought about the data you have access to and how you can harness it, now is the time to do so. At MiQ we help clients every day with data reviews to highlight opportunities to build better value for their business using their pre-existing data assets.
  4. Get ahead of the curve. Supply-side partners are already hard at work planning to find other ways to monetize their user-base when the cookie finally crumbles. We’re already seeing them looking to get ahead by capturing data such as email addresses in return for access to online content. The RTB auction process is set to undergo a facelift to ensure these data signals can be passed along for activation, so identity resolution partners such as Liveramp will play a big part in the future of targeting.
  5. Understand the clean room opportunity. ADH and other clean rooms present a unique opportunity to access log level user data in a privacy first environment. We’re working to replicate many of our capabilities such as predictive modelling, custom audience activation and incrementality measurement within ADH to help our clients differentiate and get the most out of their investments in Google Marketing Platform.

The future’s bright

Our industry has already faced a number of storms and come out stronger. Take the ad blocking trend for example: four years ago you might have thought this was the apocalypse for programmatic but, through innovation, we came out of the other side intact.  If we look to the opportunity rather than the threat of a cookieless world, we can step into 2020 without fear and get excited about the decade of programmatic everything.

To find out more about any of the solutions we are building for a cookieless world, reach out to us today.