Will the demise of the cookie lead to better brand building opportunities online?

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By Victoria Potter, US Business Director at ECI Media Management

Google announced in January that it would be phasing out the cookie in its Chrome browser over the next two years. Apple’s Safari and Firefox have already killed off the cookie in their browsers, but Chrome is by far the most popular browser in the world with 64.1% of global market share in January 2020, so Google’s decision will lead to a major industry shift.

A pivotal year for digital advertising

2020, then, is a pivotal year for digital advertising. But exactly how it will change is as yet unclear: how will tech companies, agencies and advertisers react? Will the digital landscape change dramatically or imperceptibly? Will that change be positive or negative?

An opportunity to refocus on brand building

For a very long time, advertisers have been able to follow consumers from page to page across the internet, understanding their consumption patterns and using that insight for targeting. Focus has turned away from more difficult to measure brand building activity. It’s always easier to value what you can measure over what you can’t. But now that the cookie is on its way out, advertisers and agencies will need to re-evaluate what they use digital advertising for. Could brand building, traditionally the realm of TV and OOH, be one of its new uses?

Harnessing digital to build relationships with consumers

Before the advent of the cookie in particular, and digital advertising in general, building brands was always at the heart of advertising: trusted brands are fundamentally important in helping consumers make choices. In this new era of digital advertising, can we harness its strengths to make this the new way to build relationships with consumers and earn their trust, rather than just trying to push them to click and buy? This will be particularly important for brands who do not have access to high-quality first-party data, for example FMCG companies.

Context-based media buying will become a key tool

A key tool will be context-based media buying, with advertisers seeking out environments where their broader target audiences congregate. Ben Plomion of tech company GumGum advises that marketers should “use the insights they generate from their current cookie data to inform their future contextual strategies”. Technological advances and the growth of AI are making contextual advertising an increasingly powerful tool: they can be used to understand web page sentiment, understand linguistic nuances, verify the content and tone of images and video, and automatically configure ad creative so that it complements the context.

Premium publishers are able to offer brands superior contextual advertising opportunities thanks to their high-quality inventory and relatively low ad loads, creating a better experience for the user. This means they can help advertisers obtain meaningful reach and build trust and connection – all valuable assets for a brand building campaign.

Plan to build relationships with humans, not to reach consumers

At the heart of these approaches is planning with humans – not ‘consumers’ – in mind. Without the targeting and measuring abilities associated with cookies, refocusing on enriching people’s lives through advertising will become critical for success – and that is why we believe the demise of the cookie should, on balance, be a good thing for advertisers.

Walled gardens could increase the dominance of the tech giants

There are some pitfalls to look out for. Of course, Google and Facebook’s walled gardens will be largely unaffected by the decline of the cookie (indeed, some believe that Google decided to kill the cookie so that it wouldn’t have to share its data with anyone else). Advertisers will still be able to leverage the first-party cookie within these walled gardens, which will further strengthen the tech giants’ position and even allow them to raise their prices, if advertisers don’t push for content strategies to find their target groups in the digital space.

In the face of Google and Facebook’s strengthened position, publishers might be tempted to increase ad loads in order to avoid declining revenues; with advertisers struggling to drop their reliance on last click performance metrics, this could lead to an increase in irrelevant ads, which would in turn lead to a rise in ad blocking.

It’s time to revisit priorities and foster deeper connections

The decline of the cookie is a seminal moment in the history of online advertising. While it could undoubtedly spell trouble for those unwilling or unable to adapt, in our view advertisers should see it as an opportunity to reappraise and revisit priorities, and to create brand-building campaigns that foster deeper connections with human beings for greater trust.

What’s your opinion?

We would love to hear from brands, agencies and tech firms about how they envisage a cookie-less future. What do you think will happen? Do you think the decline of the cookie will usher in a golden era of advertising, or is your forecast less optimistic? Comment on our LinkedIn post, or email us at .

Image: Kim Reinick/Shutterstock

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