People, Not Perishables: Time For The Cookie To Crumble

The cookie has had a good run. The heart of digital marketing for almost 20 years, it is still surprisingly relevant. Earlier this year, eMarketer predicted that programmatic marketing, which depends on cookies, would make up more than two thirds of all digital display, with significant continued growth into 2017. Those predictions are probably not far off.

But there is a problem looming, and it’s called mobile. The Wall Street Journal reported that not only does mobile Internet access continue to grow, but, for the first time, there’s a corresponding decline in time spent on desktop access. The way people are accessing the Internet is changing, and it doesn’t bode well for cookies.

The fact is cookies just don’t work well in a mobile environment. They represent perishable data points that suffer from serious issues in all situations, and particularly in a mobile device.

But what is the option? What do we, as an industry, do to advance a better solution?

One popular answer is developing probabilistic algorithms to identify users across devices. This is a cute idea, but flawed.  The reality is that when marketers load their CRM (customer relationship management) data through a match partner into any of the common onboarding solutions, there is an immediate degradation of quality that occurs. The fidelity of the cookie is compromised out of the gate.

Matching these cookies through a probabilistic algorithm to device IDs compounds the problem. In the end, it is like having someone who speaks Greek try and translate Latin to someone who only understands ancient Egyptian. The idea is flawed on its face, and clearly not effective or prudent.   

But what do we do instead?  We need targeting to make programmatic media effective from a decisioning basis, but the basic technologies that are commonplace in the market aren’t capable of delivering the necessary precision to make this possible.

There is a solution. The idea is to start with people — specific individuals — and not cookie data.  We can do this by leveraging CRM companies like Merkle, Zeta Interactive, and others.  By combining the user-level data they make available with the data of publishers, and potentially even the data of the walled gardens, we can create true matches, bound to the safe harbor matching of personal information at the time of ad render.  

"There's no substitute for the highest fidelity and quality of CRM and consumer data at the person level as the core for planning, activation and measurement.  Advertisers and publishers need to re-think their models and make enablement of this a priority. This will ultimately transform the industry from proxies to people-based at scale in an increasingly mobile-first world,” said Gerry Bavaro, Merkle's SVP, enterprise solutions.

This approach provides, finally, a truly cookie-less, people-based solution that works accurately across all platforms, including mobile. Further, it offers a solution that doesn’t experience the fidelity degradation issues endemic to cookies.   

This shift changes the game completely. For the first time, marketers can plan and activate media against directly targeted, flesh-and-blood individuals, instead of the cookies that have historically served as proxies for these users. This represents major advance in our ability to craft truly meaningful and relevant marketing communications with consumers.

The cookie has had a good run, but it is time for something new. We are at a point where we can shift from a perishable cookie approach to a people-based, CRM driven targeting solution. It’s time we kill the cookie, and focus on the people.

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