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Privacy first: how to navigate a cookie-less future

The digital advertising landscape will look very different place in years to come but it doesn’t have to be a scary place if you have proper planning, proactivity and partnerships

Privacy first: how to navigate a cookie-less future

The death of the third-party cookie has made privacy the digital industry’s dominant concern. There is now an urgent need to build a sustainable advertising ecosystem that sees privacy as a core design philosophy, not a tick box or afterthought.

“We're living in a fantasy land,” said best-selling author and industry commentator, Bob Hoffman, also known as ‘The Ad Contrarian’. “This is a fantasy land in which the convenience of marketers is more important than the privacy rights of citizens and the integrity of democratic institutions.”

Joe Root, co-founder and CEO of audience platform Permutive, agreed, saying: “Tracking users across domains, and harvesting every piece of that personal information has turned digital advertising to surveillance rather than an opportunity to influence users.”

Root and fellow co-founder Tim Spratt believe the evolution of Permutive’s digital management platform to a unified audience platform will help premium advertisers and publishers to plan, build and activate cohorts while keeping data safe. “Instead of advertising being creepy and putting users in a position where they want to block it, it should be changing people’s minds and having an impact,” said Root. 

Spratt added: “First-party data is the new currency. And in that world, publishers and advertisers need to find new ways to connect. There's a couple of principles that we work from the first as the data owners should retain control over that data. What that means for our solutions is that we need to safeguard publisher data at all costs.”

The world is not going to end
Publisher Jana Meron, SVP programmatic and data strategy at Insider Inc, sees the end of the cookie as a reset. “The sky is not falling,” she said. “Advertising was measured successfully in some way, shape or form for years before there was a third-party cookie.”

While acknowledging this notion of a reset, Lung Huang, head of growth solutions at Mars Petcare, cautioned against a scorched-earth approach. I don't think anybody wants to go back to a world where no parts of their [digital] life are personalised,” he said. “We’re more reliant than ever on technology and data and science so let’s chart the new path. Let’s be transparent. And let’s give the consumers a choice.”

Honesty is the best policy
Meron and Huang agree that this transparency is vital and has been lacking in the past. “There’s a value exchange that we just haven’t been talking about with the consumer,” she said. “It's always been there – broadcast TV in the 50s was paid for by advertisers – But we’ve done a poor job as an industry of explaining that value proposition.”

Huang added: “There’s always a value exchange – a Tesco clubcard isn’t just about discounts, it’s also about tailored advertising.” 

Extol the virtue of first-party data
Meron wants publishers and advertisers to understand the value of first-party data rather than mourn the absence of third-party data. The privacy changes by Apple to iOS mean, according to Meron, that 45% of the web is no longer addressable. “It's about a holistic approach of creating a great user experience that, in a privacy safe way, is able to benefit the company and the consumer’s experience on our site. We’re seeing performance 2x that of third-party data.”

One of Meron’s advertisers experimented with a 50/50 split between third- and first-party data, with the first-party outperforming by 11%.  She was also keen to point out that first-party data isn’t just about the authenticated (logged in) user – all of the activity a user makes on a site is first-party data.

Different metrics
The loss of third-party data leads to concerns about scale but Huang was happy to admit: “Scale is taking a backseat for me.” Meron expanded: “A 2% authentication rate isn’t going to provide anything meaningful but it will provide us the ability to do modelling, create additional cohorts and understand what topics are most interesting to which cohorts of users.”

Advice for publishers
Huang urged publishers to be more proactive or risk “losing their share”. He added: “This is not a spectator sport anymore – it’s a participation sport now.” Meron advised a type of data stock take. “This is about understanding where everything lives and what you can do with it,” she said. “We’re getting our data house in order. This is a multi-year, multi-step process, and one that everybody in the organisation needs to be on board with, from editorial, to product and technology to business.”

Advice for advertisers and marketers
“Choose your partners wisely,” Meron cautioned. “We have to be very careful as an industry that we are not recreating the mess that got us here in the first place. A partner helps you understand and plan for the future while a vendor just gives you a solution for them.”

What does the future look like?
Let's stop worrying about the cookie – let's move beyond,” said Huang. “Let's start to figure out what the next metrics are that we need to build. We need clear, concise ways to tackle the problem, and let’s give the customer choice.”

Lung Huang’s three top tips for starting from scratch without a first-party data strategy:
1. You need buy-in at executive level
2. Outline your value proposition to the customer 
3. Test, learn, optimise 

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