For the past 15 years or so, we've heard about the evils of cookies, especially third-party cookies. And during the past year or so, many major players have been racing to develop their own cookie replacement technologies in anticipation of Google's launch of AdID. In a recent Ad Age byline, Facebook's Brian Boland offered a replacement scenario -- one that I'm sure Facebook would enjoy owning. In this scenario, cookies would be replaced for measurement and attribution purposes by something more personally identifiable and flexible across devices.
It's no secret that Google has been long at work on its proposed AdID. And companies like Tapad (among others) that focus on cross-device marketing have been developing their own kind of unique IDs that identify connections among an individual user's devices. But Facebook's double-opt-in ecosystem is a true walled garden that would provide a unique advantage if its advertisers and partners played along -- even if only for measurement or attribution purposes.
To what end?
Let's play this forward a bit. What if such a cookie replacement were available today to all marketers and publishers online? And what if this cookie replacement could be scalable and flexible enough not just beyond tablets and smartphones, but also to enable campaigns on connected television to be measured and targeted more precisely? Marketers can work with Open AdStream (launched by digital marketing company 24/7 RealMedia more than a decade ago). Acxiom's AOS enables this kind of targeting, as well as a certain class of Amazon Cloud.
While our company provides solutions along these lines as well, I wonder where these will be after Google ultimately launches its AdID, which will enable Google to treat all cookies as its own first-party cookies. If only for preparation's sake, why wouldn't every major online advertiser leverage first-party cookies today?
Better still, with an eye on recent acquisitions in the market can't everyone see where this is heading? The fact is that much more is needed than just a cookie replacement, if we're going to reach the promised land of data control (keep it in silos) and the next-generation, first-party cookie.
What buyers are after
In aggregate, the recent acquisition of BlueKai by Oracle, Aggregate Knowledge by Neustar, and even Comcast's purchase of FreeWheel all point to two key trends in consolidation and in time-to-market. First covers the need in the market for technologies that are data aware. And second, the increasing requirement to efficiently move data to the edge where in real-time, it can be used to influence content selection or ad selection across a wide variety of dimensions related to user, device, context, and location.
While these types of acquisitions address tactical service level issues, they also address the pending collisions in the network space as companies such as Google move to invest in both device and fiber along with carriers and MSOs. At the network level, the battle for four screen supremacy is increasingly based not just on access to fiber or spectrum, but on the ability to leverage data strategically, effectively, and instantly. It's not just about having the data. It's about having the technological ability to bring the data to bear. Google has this ability and has a big lead. And when other companies vying for hegemony in the marketing cloud develop their solutions -- including Facebook, Oracle, and yes, Comcast -- buyers will have more choices across more screens.
While some industry observers see the DMPs replacing ad servers, the DMPs themselves are realizing that this framework is not a simple build. And neither is maintaining a technology stack that requires specific service level agreements (SLA), certifications, and distributed infrastructure. These more complex than expected technologies and requirements might spur additional acquisitions and consolidation. Controllers of the primary two buy side technologies are not necessarily predisposed to enabling competitive technologies, expanding buying choice, or abdicating advantageous market-based pricing in favor of advertiser controlled models.
Put more simply, any advertiser can utilize its own first-party cookie to target creative and gain insights in to how its campaigns are performing. Online publishers and retailers, with the scale of a Facebook, can and should do the same thing.
Boland's article says that in two years, we'll think of the standard third-party cookie as archaic. I'd assert that in six years, all major players will be using first-party cookies across four screens. And even then people will be saying that it's just the start.
Tim Mayer is CMO at Trueffect.