Tackling the Cookie Monster: our ethical approach to data driven planning

March 2021

The majority of digital media investment is powered by some form of identity – most prominently based on device IDs and browser cookies. These are then made valuable by the data attached to them. On publisher and advertiser sites, identity enables things like personalisation and authentication for purchases. Within walled gardens like Facebook, Google and Amazon, identity makes your interests and purchases available for advertisers to personalise what you see, and show you relevant ads.

Similarly, outside of walled gardens, a vast number of vendors thrived on identity – driven by mobile IDs and browser cookies – all aiming to make the open web an efficient place to do business. These historically enabled more relevant ads by the building and trading of audience pools based on their interests and their relationship with brands. It also affects business-facing things like attribution modelling, which assigns proper credit to each touchpoint along someone’s path to purchase.

Regulation has largely been light touch – the once-feared GDPR in Europe encouraged the familiar ‘cookie walls’, that, since 2018, most users just click away. As a result, data collection for advertisers continued unchanged for the most part.

What’s new?

However, in recent years browsers like Safari and Firefox have started their own tracking protections, going beyond legal minimums in the interest of consumer privacy. This also restricted blunter advertising approaches such as endless retargeting, so most users welcomed the initiatives.

In 2020, one of the last, most hospitable places for the advertising cookie was Google

Chrome. Making up 65% of browsing across all devices worldwide (source: Statista May 2020), when Google announced the end of this type of cookie by default, this was a seismic shift. Adding to this, with iOS14 Apple further restricted the use of their ID solution – similarly expected to prevent the digital advertising industry status quo.

Quite simply, in 2021 the majority of the digital advertising landscape will have to massively adapt as a result of these changes.

What’s next?

As with any times of great change, there will be opportunities to rethink how we do things, question the status quo, and potentially make massive leaps forward. We see this as a chance to lead the industry on building an ethical, privacy-first approach to the relationships we help brands build with the public.

Timing is proving to be critical. Announcements have put in hard deadlines such as Chrome ending third party cookie support by the end of 2021. However, the IAB, W3C, and other industry bodies have not yet finalised standards for alternative technologies to enable measurement and other essentials of the way we work at present. In the meantime, we are maintaining an open mind and testing a range of proposed solution technologies where they make sense:

We are working more closely with walled garden players, who have a vested interest to create alternative solutions that create relevance for ads by using their consented data more extensively.

We are reviewing new identity solutions that start from publishers’ and brands’ known relationships, rather than trying to build anonymous individual profiles.

At the same time, we are exploring more anonymous, cohort-driven solutions that group people up and rely on data other than advertising cookies to achieve similar ends.

Context-based solutions become more useful too – for instance, if we know the topic someone is interested in, in that moment, we can be relevant in that moment; we needn’t act on their interests dating back days, weeks or even months.

With so many variables in play, anyone that claims to have a definitive point of view of how advertising should be planned and bought in 2022 either has a time machine or is lying. Instead, we are better served in the coming months by rigorously evaluating each respective solution as it reaches maturity, refining our toolkit, and making the most of the reset moment 2021 promises to be.