The cookies debate is not new, and with the continued stance of the IAB opposing Mozilla's intention to block third-party cookies, the industry seems to be at a crossroads with many opinions, a few alternate suggestions, and not a lot of consensus. With Mozilla moving forward with its plan to block third-party cookies and to create a cookies clearinghouse -- to determine which cookies will be allowed and which will be blocked -- key industry players will be forced to look for alternatives.
There are a couple past examples of unification around a standard that the ad tech space could rely upon. Evidon is a great example of a consumer group that has been successful at driving privacy discussions because there was no vested interest involved. Another example is Neustar, a government regulated effort (Lockheed Martin technology owned by a neutral third-party that tracks/manages all DNS addresses) that has been successful because there was a neutral business model. Sure, the likes of Google and Facebook could do drive the adoption of a standard, but it would only exacerbate inventory segmentation and measurement silos.
Interestingly enough, most of the discussion around banning third-party cookies has focused heavily on third-party tracking for behavioral targeting, and somehow ignored the importance of third-party tracking for measurement and attribution across the digital ecosystem. Without a clear path to develop an industry standard to address measurement and attribution challenges, advertisers will be the biggest losers.
Today, advertisers -- and their agencies -- use third-party cookies for media measurement and attribution. Doing away with misleading panels and media mix modeling occurs in order to focus on measuring reach, frequency, and performance at the intersection of audience, media, and the creative.
By focusing on this intersection advertisers can understand the true impact of media investments (and ROI) on driving sales transactions -- both online and offline. Banning third-party cookies for measurement and attribution would give the big web/app portals a huge advantage given they already have the first-party cookie, the user data, the ad inventory, and the third-party ad server. It would make it hard for advertisers to measure audiences and grow their media investment across all digital channels -- display, search, video, and social. If we were to move to a cookieless world, there are three direct implications for advertisers to consider:
Online consumers who share their personal information with a brand via a social network, a POS transaction, site visits, or lead generation programs will be matched and retargeted online via the big web/app portals that have a massive footprint of registered users
Big search players -- Google, Bing, and Facebook through Graph Search -- will be protected because of their massive footprint of first-party cookies
Advertisers wanting to scale their branding and acquisition campaigns will have no other option than to "spray and pray" with more or less contextual relevance, making display advertising (except for opt-ins) a lot less attractive. TV will remain a better and easier option and ad budgets will not follow the users online. Both publishers and advertisers will lose -- and in the long run, the consumers too.
Industry players need to be thinking about how to drive the discussion forward and become less-reliant on cookies. This includes how their systems are designed and architected to deal with multiple third-party user identifications that might emerge as safe and approved industry standards (e.g. Apple IFA/Android UDID, hashed email addresses) and how to map them across multiple devices and media channels while maintaining consumer privacy and choice.
Pascal Bensoussan is chief strategy officer at Aggregate Knowledge.
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