A Cookie By Any Other Name Is Still A Cookie -- Even If It's An Apple

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, cookies are going away.  You can call it a “universal ID,” “mobile ad ID” a “cohort-targeted delivery mechanism” or any other made-up name, but a cookie by any other name is still simply a cookie. 

The ad industry is going on a diet forced upon us by an oligopoly of internet companies who clearly do not want to work together going forward.  What does that mean for you?

Apple is now going to ask users if they consent to being tracked.  A small percentage of users will accept, but the majority will likely decline.  Can you blame them? 

I had a conversation just last week about the ways Facebook and Apple listen to your conversations and target ads to you as a result.  They may say they don’t, but when my wife and I are talking about a Marriott vacation over dinner, and the next day I am getting Marriott ads delivered to me on my Facebook feed without either of us having visited a Marriott or a vacation site, or done any searches of any kind related to the topic of a vacation, you have to say “hmmmm..."

There used to be jokes about the “shoes that followed you around online” after you did a search.  That was cute.  Some of what is available now is downright creepy. 

I’ve said it before in this column and I will say it again: Content is king.  Contextual targeting is going to make the comeback it has been threatening to for years.  Within the walled gardens of Facebook and Google, you will do more targeted delivery, but the general web is going to regress back, and that may not be a bad thing. 

Context is easy to identify, and it levels the playing field for the other 20% of the web.

Many of these lower-tier sites have been surviving on DSP-network targeted ads.  If advertisers do not choose to be there, maybe the lower-quality sites will go away, and the Internet will focus on quality content again?

Of course, all this talk of dead cookies means the oligopoly becomes stronger, not weaker.  Google, Facebook, Amazon and a few other companies still benefit.  At least they do online. 

What about OTT and digital television platforms?  What about AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Comcast and the other players in that space?  Are they able to leverage consumer data across platform?  Ideally, yes.  Will they be able to do it properly?  That remains to be seen. 

I actually think OTT and DTV platforms will benefit from this because they have a right to the consumer data, and they operate in a closed platform environment as well.  The ads I get on my AT&T TV platform are general right now, but they can be improved very quickly. 

Will these changes affect the overall volume of dollars heading into digital forms of marketing and advertising?  I don’t think so.  The consumer usage is there -- and where consumers are, the dollars will flow. 

The lion’s share still goes to the oligopoly, and these moves may actually strengthen their positions and secure them a higher percentage of the spend. 

This may be a forced dietary restriction, forcing us all off cookies, but cutting the sugar just means we process more of the protein and hopefully end up with a stronger physique as a result. 

So whether you call it a cookie or not, the ad industry is changing dramatically in 2021.  I think 2022 may leave us healthier as a result of fewer cookies, but I’m curious what you think.  Tell us in the comments below!

2 comments about "A Cookie By Any Other Name Is Still A Cookie -- Even If It's An Apple".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 29, 2021 at 1 p.m.

    All web browsers offer private or incognito searching. My understanding (not always perfect) is that anonymous searches do not let advertisers follow me when I visit ad-supported websites (something I try to discourage with the layering of adblocking apps). Perhaps the public will learn to avoid cookies without Tim Cook to act as our nanny. Finally, if advertisers worry that one of their standard practices would suffer from widespread opt-in choice, then maybe that practice is inherently too creepy to endorse. 

  2. Nick Nyhan from Upside Analytics, May 3, 2021 at 2:35 p.m.

    Hi Cory - We used to talk about this 10 years ago when it looked like Gator and Spyware was out of control.  Then, as now, it seemed that cookies were doomed to be wiped out becuase people thought they caused the "creepy" factor in advertising.  In some cases, like re-targeting shoes you were searching, they did (maybe irritating but logical).  But what about if you already bought the shoes online, and still they follow you...what a waste of money and a proof point that actually a LACK of data connectivity was also part of the problem (I already bought shoees, dont need the ad).  In that case, we needed more information attached to a cookie, not less, to make the experience better for all.

    I remember Gator which spawned ads coming up from the botom of browser, and the more you deleted cookies the more these ads appeared.  Cookie elimination had the opposite effect then. 

    The more modern day phenomenon you brought up with your Marriott example: talking about Marriott and then seeing a Marriott ad - many people have had that feeling...  But do cookies cause that?  Or is that your voice assistant system (owned by many of the same companies that benefit from new cookie deprecation policies) doing things that they can do without any cookies at all?   Or is it....maybe....coincidence and/or a greater sense of awareness on your part?  Im not picking the answer, but trying to say that the cookie has been maligned for years and gets blamed for a lot of unkonwns in digital economy, but the reason it was so widely used becuase it also had so much practical value for both the customer (fewer logins, saved preferences, sense of sequence) and the publisher (who is using our content right now). 

    So I agree: we can change the name the cookie: rebrand the function of an identifier and call it XYZ.  We can change some of the opt-in policies and more importantly who controls it and onsequently gets the benefits from its usage.  And we can bring contextual targeting back to the forefront.  All of that is seemingly happening, but we will sill need some form of cross-platform ID mgmt - no matter what we call it. And here are now about 80 companies in the space trying to provide the "new cookie."

    And to people who say this is all unfair and you should be able to browse and buy anonymously, I see that point, but then in the name of fairness you should also agree to pay more for content if you remove the ability of a publisher to make decent ad revenue to pay for the content creation.

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