The New 'C Word:' Community

As expected, the "C word" on everyone’s lips at the Interactive Advertising Bureau Annual Leadership Meeting this week was "cookies." More of that shortly. But I also heard a new "C word" gathering momentum -- "community." It came up, time and again, as the industry faced the future and searched for a solution.

But first -- cookies, or the impending lack of them. Given that the conference was the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s flagship event, it was only natural that "how will advertising survive in a post-cookie world?" was the main topic. 

The audience heard from Harvard Business School professor John Deighton, who painted a picture of doom and gloom. “When cookies disappear, ad tech breaks. Publishers' revenue will drop by an estimated 50-60 percent...The quality of the Internet will significantly deteriorate over the next 2-3 years."

Deighton then went on to warn that Wall Street has not woken up to the implications of this situation yet, but when they look, company by company, at the effects of no cookies, he expects some serious revaluations for certain firms.



He painted a sad picture of a very uneven world, where a few companies had rich pools of first-party data, but the rest were left to hunt for scraps. His only lighthearted concession to positivity was that the crazy, complicated Lumascape visuals would become a lot simpler.

We also heard from another professor, Jeffrey Cole of USC's Center for the Digital Future, who was much more bullish. He called this “the most important 12 months in history for entertainment since the invention of TV.” He was positive about this development putting control back in the hands of the publishers, not ad tech. It's no bad thing that only publisher data remains with the necessary scale, levels of trust and commitment to privacy.

The IAB itself stepped up and led the debate about the next stage of developments. And that's where we first heard the mention of the other "C word:" community.

Randall Rothenberg, President and CEO, IAB pointed out the initial benefit of cookies (the Internet was to allow communities of similar interests to convene.) However, he correctly pointed out, the future developments in a post-cookie Internet world must protect those communities while also harmonizing personalization and privacy.

This point was driven home by Third Love co-founder David Spector. For marketers, acquisition competes for dollars with retention. It's a dilemma that Spector had an interesting thought about. He felt the existing customers should be a community to bring in and welcome new customers. And the brand, in turn, must keep those existing customers by helping them feel they are part of a community.

Personally, I love the notion that community can be the intersection of retention and acquisition. For example, it will be interested to see how a community started by a bra company does.

Community was mentioned again by Twitch Founder and CEO Emmett Shear as he talked about the key to the platform's success. He articulated the power of bringing new and current subscribers together in a community to “create a moment to unlock the next level up.”

Of course, he wasn't talking about a literal level up in the game, but bringing the subscribers a great communal experience, like the joint watching of the Super Bowl ad -- consumers on a couch together discussing it, and the communal feeling that “we were part of this, we saw that ad together.”

The Twitch experience taps into that same human love of community, except it is like having 30,000 people on the couch with you. Shear believes that in the future all live events will be interactive and community-based. Technology will enable consumers to feel part of the community involved in the event with interactivity, wherever they are and however they are viewing it.

So as we define the post-cookie world, we must continue to put consumers at the heart of developments to ensure we create new harmonized ways of delivering interactive advertising based on privacy and personalization.

As we say goodbye to cookies, we must clearly say hello to community.

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