Writing for WARC’s Marketer’s Toolkit 2021, Mark Wagman, managing director at MediaLink, argues that brands will benefit from the death of the third-party cookie.

When Google announced in January that it was planning to phase out third-party cookies in two years, let’s be honest, many of us had the same thought: that is really far away, and somebody is surely going to figure out a solution between now and then, right? We’ll just replace one ID with another, how hard can that be?

Similarly, when Apple announced the new IDFA rules surrounding targeting back in June, many CMOs likely had the same reaction: shh – I don’t really understand what that means. But we have partners that do. Plus, Apple has already put this off. So, we’ll be fine. Ad tech, like life, always finds a way. Right?

The thing is, things won’t be fine for everybody. I’m not trying to say the sky is falling, but I’m worried that much of the marketing world hasn’t fully come to grips with the tectonic changes headed their way.

Yes, there may be delays, short-term ‘reprieves’, and small tweaks and such along the way, but this is happening. Guys, this is not a drill.

No, this isn’t the ‘death to the open web’ that some speak of – and no, this isn’t the time to just ‘give in to the walled gardens’. The way we planned, executed and measured digital media is changing – all at once – all right now. In a new world, some of our models and processes won’t change dramatically – while other frameworks or attribution techniques are turned for a loop.

Guess what? While this won’t be easy, this cookie-free, mobile ID-light shift has the potential to be better for brands, better for publishers and best of all, better for consumers. We’ve been given an opportunity to reboot – this next era of data-driven digital has an opportunity to be what we all told ourselves was happening today.

But we can’t just hope it all works out. We need to know what we’re up against. So, to help us wrap our heads around this – let’s walk through what happens on Day One with limited access to third party cookie or IDFA identifiers.

Imagine you’re a sporting goods retailer.

For years, you’ve relied on a digital flywheel of a combination of search and social – retargeting abandoned shopping carts and riding the algorithmic wave that the platforms offer today’s marketer. You just launched a DTC mobile app and have heavily invested in growing market share in this highly competitive, mobile e-commerce ecosystem.

Then snap – cookies and Apple IDs are gone. What happens?

  • Retargeting anonymous site visitors becomes extremely difficult – limited audiences are actionable for limited periods of time.
  • Those performance-media machines offered by the walled gardens and other publishers will struggle to get access to the millions of micro-signals created by consumer browsing behavior – without all this data, the algorithms don’t generate the same, consistent results.
  • Your understanding of the marketplace – outside your known customers – is cloudy at best; you can no longer rely on a third party to help out. The days of ‘just building a third-party audience segment’ are gone.
  • You now have two priorities: (1) work to create lasting relationships with your customers, and (2) find publisher and media partners who can help you bring that data (and insights) to life.
It’s time to rethink your relationship with publishers and people.

Let’s face it. We were addicted to cookies – jaded by what data and technology advancements made possible and ignored what the consumers wanted. We spent too much time chasing 1s and 0s across the web without paying attention to content and context.

Beyond trying to avoid non-brand safe content and inventory, the buy side relationship with their sell side colleagues has been very transactional to date. But the times, they are a-changing. As third-party identifiers like the cookie and mobile identifiers like the IDFA become less useful on the buy side, marketers will be forced to befriend publishers who have been able to create the audience insights they lack.

As the pendulum in the power dynamic swings towards publishers, marketers must lean in and more collaboratively engage with the content their consumers are in fact consuming. We’ve already started to see brands start to adopt these strategies – whether working with data clean rooms to make consumer data actionable across publishers or working with individual pockets of inventory to create audience-based private marketplaces.

The changes are good  the path there is rocky.

Publishers should be able to better monetise their inventory and create engaging brand and content experiences for marketers. Brands will focus less effort on moving sheer tonnage of media and focus more on driving the business results that move their respective businesses forward. And consumers – oh yeah, you and I – we are now delivered the promise of a relevant, yet unobtrusive, open web advertising experience.

If we can all have that, who needs cookies?