The cookie hasn't died...yet
A view from Gareth Davies

The cookie hasn't died...yet

Saturday 26 May 2012. A date which will live in infamy.

Media Week readers will, of course, recall the tragic train of events leading up to that fateful day: the composition of EU Directive 2009/136/EC, the unheeded warnings, the inventive if ultimately ineffective campaigning, Britain’s implementation of a new cookie law based on the aforementioned Directive - and the end of the internet as we knew it.

Except…the internet as we knew it didn’t end. Not even close. The Jeremiahs predicting the ‘end of online sales’ and a cost to the British economy of up to £10bn were found to be trafficking in falsehoods. Both online advertising and the cookie survived. 

The end is nigh

But fast-forward 18 months (to today) and the downbeat tale of 2012’s opt-in furore is starting to sound deeply ironic. Why? Because the cookie is facing another storm – one it has no chance of weathering. 

I say ‘another storm’ – but ‘tsunami’ is probably a better way to describe the wild proliferation of mobile and connected devices whose spread will render the cookie redundant in a timeframe that is looking tighter by the day.

Why? Because this wild proliferation means consumers are now interacting with content across multiple disparate devices (including things like fridges and cars) like never before.

Cookies can neither track these interactions when they take place outside of a web browser—according to Flurry consumers currently spend an average of 80 per cent of their ‘mobile time’ using apps—nor effectively ‘connect the screens’ and deliver consistent advertising experiences to individual consumers. 

Perhaps this all sounds a little far-fetched to you? After all, the cookie is currently in rude health, isn’t it?

Google, Microsoft...they're all at it 

Well, if it’s hard evidence you’re after, you need look no further than technology giants Google and Microsoft - both of whom have been spotted making progress with cookie replacement projects in recent months.

And if Google and Microsoft are at it, it’s a safe bet that the likes of Apple, eBay and Amazon et. al. are also engaged in developing their own unique user identification and tracking technologies. 

Media agencies with trading desks built around exchange-bought retargeting campaigns (and that therefore depend on cookies) will be on their toes as these new technologies are unveiled in 2014. With the sun setting on the cookie, these agencies/desks will be looking to transition their business models to stay on the curve.

To do this they’ll need technology that allows them to track and reach the whole multiscreen audience across potentially diverse environments - it won’t be enough for them to engage with only those users tracked by Google, for example.

And what about 2015 and beyond?

Looking beyond the coming year it’s possible that whatever replaces the cookie won’t be ‘owned’ by a single technology company – rather it will be a standardised tracking technology, based on an open industry discussion regulated by a body like the IAB, and modelled on the most innovative technologies that are currently being groomed to follow the cookie.

Incidentally, it’s worth noting that the sooner that open discussion begins in earnest, the more likely it is that the industry will develop an independent solution that works well for the majority of its stakeholders rather than one major tech player.

Video killed the radio star, mobile killed the cookie

Ultimately, while a ‘mobile-first’, ultra-connected, world is bad news for the cookie, it’s good news for media agencies who—armed with the right real-time decisioning and buying tools —will gain access to vast banks of user and device-based behavioural and environmental data (hence the rise of ‘big data’ as a marketing buzzword). 

This data, properly understood and harnessed, is certain to provide the kind of insights marketers need to deliver more relevant and compelling ads at the right time and in the right place – increasing brand awareness, engagement, and sales in the process.

After all, that’s why we’re all here – and why we’ll all be flying over the cookie’s nest in 2014.

Gareth Davies is co-founder and chief executive at Adbrain