Why The Ad Industry Needs To Go On A Cookie Diet

To say that we’re in the midst of a sea change in content consumption and creation is a bit of an understatement. It’s more like a revolution: one being driven by connected devices that fit on a lap, in a back pocket, and now even on a wrist.

Digital content and technology companies have created the mobile platforms that people use to communicate, as well as much of the content that they want to share – but building these platforms and creating that content isn’t cheap. The ecosystem needs an influx of ad revenue to continue to thrive. 

It’s the perfect equation: Content-hungry consumers, incredible publishers and content creators, and advertisers that are ready to fund it all. Except somehow, the math isn’t quite working out. Many in the advertising industry are actually facing a bit backward when it comes to making this mobile revolution profitable. It all comes down to an overdependence on cookies.

It’s Time for a Reduced-Cookie Diet

As a primer (or a refresher for digital natives), a cookie is a small file that gets downloaded to users’ computers when they access certain websites, helping websites keep track of things like the products users have added to a shopping cart. Cookies are also used to deliver advertising tailored to users’ interests, which is why they have played such a central role in fuellng the growth of digital advertising over the last decade.

The problem is that while cookies are great for keeping track of audience behaviors on desktops, apps and the majority of browsers don’t readily support cookies. This deficiency has led to many media companies not being able to monetize their mobile content effectively, because they can’t provide the depth of cross-device audience insights that advertisers have grown to expect.

From Cookies-Only, to Cookies-Plus

The good news is that the ad tech industry has already started tackling this problem. Some publishers and social networks are taking users’ login data and mapping it across devices. This connects different devices to the same user with incredible precision, but it’s also a bit of a walled garden. Using a specific social platform or publishers’ login data is certainly valuable, but what about when you’re looking to target users outside of those properties? And what if you’re a publisher without login data?

The alternative solution is probabilistic matching, technology that matches desktop cookies with mobile device IDs. If a smartphone and laptop, for example, are always on the same wireless connection in the evening and during the day, and if the same type of content is consistently consumed across both devices, then there’s a strong chance that they belong to the same user. This intel allows for way-smarter ad targeting across screens.

As an industry, we need to move more quickly toward a true cross-device future. Advertisers need insights. Content creators need revenue. And users are fed up with irrelevant ads that get repeated ad nauseam, especially on their phones.

The post-cookie world is one where advertisers can target users across devices with content that drives them further down the purchase funnel, and a world where publishers may even be able to use – gasp – fewer ads to pay for all the great cross-platform content they create. The post-cookie world is definitely a brave new one for the industry. Are you ready?

4 comments about "Why The Ad Industry Needs To Go On A Cookie Diet".
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  1. Jason Jedlinski from Twelvefold Media, March 31, 2015 at 1:12 p.m.

    Couldn’t agree more about the over-dependence on cookies and the limited scale of first-party or social sign-on data. Probablistic matching is interesting, but brings to mind those #sortayou commercials from Esurance. (“I’m sort of your mom. We’re both 25-35 years old…”)

    Contextual targeting is a perfect example of “Cookies-Plus,” leveraging content consumption signals to discover new audiences. Twelvefold’s SPECTRUM platform targets, reaches and engages users based on what they’re reading or watching, versus who a cookie says they are. It works seamlessly across screens and lets marketers target custom mindsets -- versus canned audience segments. When it comes to powering actionable insights, content is a terrific way to judge where a marketers’ message resonates best.

  2. Robert Barrows from R.M. Barrows, Inc. Advertising & Public Relations, March 31, 2015 at 8:40 p.m.

    Here is a funny cookie comment: I was in a fast food restaurant and they had an offer to give you a "free cookie" if you filled out an online survey. (Oh, will you get I didn't take them up on the offer.)

  3. Patrick Giblin from 451 Degrees Inc, April 7, 2015 at 7:02 p.m.

    The Cookie Monsters will die...but we at 451 Degrees feel the best way to define relevant advertising on all 3 screens is through the comments of the community digesting the content.  The content is what drives the right consumer to the location...not a log in.  Once there the advertising should be relative to the cotent they are visiting when they are there.  Yes, you can add in values based on the Log In Data and Cross Platform confirmation via Mobile Device ID's but people are at the Content for a reason...they went there.  Content is defined through social engagement and commentary from those around it.  These beacons create entire new threads and understandings.  This gives best use of the truth for relevancy and advertising.  And yes, this is what our SaaS does using Machined Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing so this is a biased opinon but we still think a valid and good one...  

  4. Jen Beever from New Incite, April 9, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.

    Thank you, this is a problem for visitors who are concerned about their privacy and for marketers who want to measure results. There must be a solution that is fair to both. I always notice when I'm served ads for industries in which I've done extensive online research. Most recently I've been served up cybersecurity and industrial storage tank ads, even though I'm not in the market for these products!

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