You Were Right, Walt Mossberg: The Cookie Did Not Improve Online Advertising

As a result of steps being taken by companies like Apple and Google, and partly as a result of lawmakers and regulators in Europe (GDPR) and the U.S. (CCPA in California), browser cookies are effectively going away as a tool for managing online advertising.

Device IDs and IP addresses might be compromised as well for ad management.

But I don’t think this means the sky is falling for the digital ad business. Cookies became a crutch for online advertising and the sooner we move on the better it will be for everyone.

Walt Mossberg, the legendary, longtime technology columnist for The Wall Street Journal, preached that the cookie didn’t make digital advertising better — and he was right.

I have been around online advertising since our industry first leveraged the cookie. My first start-up, Real Media, a predecessor company to 24/7 Real Media, utilized the cookie in our AdStream and Open AdStream ad servers to personalize web ads on sites like The Washington Post and The New York Times, starting in 1995.



The cookie brought memory to the ad delivery's browser, in addition to personalization, and supported features like frequency capping and behavioral advertising.

The cookie was also a core component of my second start-up, TACODA, which launched in 2001 and helped pioneer online behavioral advertising, eventually becoming part of AOL in 2008. During that time, I had a number of interactions and exchanges with Walt Mossberg on the use of the browser cookie in web advertising.

He was very critical of how the industry used it. I was an industry defender.

His two most powerful arguments on the issue were simple. One, web publishers and ad networks weren’t being straight with consumers. Privacy policies were hidden, hard to understand and couldn’t really communicate everything that the cookie was used for. Two, the cookie couldn’t really be helping much, since the ad experience on virtually all websites was terrible — everyone was getting too many irrelevant, redundant, blinky-flashy ads.

Now, 14 years later, it is clear that Walt was right.

Consumers probably know even less about what behavioral data is being captured, by whom and for what purpose, and they certainly aren’t getting a great ad experience. It’s hard to argue that the online ad experience isn’t still awful — 25 years after we started using cookies.

My view: We have nothing to lose by losing the cookie. This is not a bad time to go back to the drawing board and come up with new approaches and new architectures to deliver more relevant, better yielding ads.

What do you think? Has the cookie made your ad experience better or worse?

4 comments about "You Were Right, Walt Mossberg: The Cookie Did Not Improve Online Advertising".
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  1. Henry Blaufox from Dragon360, June 27, 2019 at 4:57 p.m.

    Dave, Impact of your position on your current firm Simulmedia?

  2. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, June 27, 2019 at 5:28 p.m.

    No impact. Simulmedia operates in linear TV ant OTT with no cookies.

  3. John Grono from GAP Research, June 28, 2019 at 8:27 p.m.

    Does that mean that the cookie was over-cooked?

  4. Robin Caller from LOLA GROVE, June 29, 2019 at 5:27 a.m.

    Dave, back in 2007, I decided to ditch cookies from my business (then called Goallover). Why? Because it was clear that even the gurus of cookies (like you) were not even fully aware of what the other gurus were doing. The cumulative exploitation was chronic. 

    We moved into the explicitly consented world of personal data, leads and secure logistics, moving it around the Web for Publishers and Advertisers. Treating real people as real people, respecting their permissions and clear intentions - sounds like a good thing because it is a good thing. 

    Cookies - the cornerstone of 'Snooptech' - have not really improved anything but snooping. It's been quite galling to see companies continuing to exploit people and getting feted for their work. 

    It will be very interesting to see what happens now the industry has been given 'clear warning'. One or two firms seem to be well placed to handle the industry pivot.  

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