‘There’s no future in cross-site tracking’: Confessions of a publisher on the death of third-party cookies

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With third-party cookies being phased out from the largest browsers, publishers are losing the main way advertisers profile and target people on their sites. But the demise of third-party cookies could be a blessing in disguise for publishers. At least, that’s the view of the head of product development and insights at a publisher. In our latest edition of Confessions, where we exchange anonymity for candor, this exec said they are being chased by media buyers who see the publisher’s data as a replacement to third-party cookies.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Has it been all doom and gloom for the business since Google announced that it would purge third-party cookies from its browser by 2022?
On the contrary, we’re seeing lots of agencies ask if they can use our data. The data we own can be used in insertion order deals and to set up private marketplaces. Execs on the agency trade desks can use our data to build segments within the ad platform we’re building and get reports on how their campaigns have performed. We had one media agency ask for 70 first-party data deals to be set up. Essentially, these were programmatic guaranteed and private marketplace deals that allow them to target ads on our site. We’re not seeing the disaster scenarios that experts predicted would follow once third-party cookies go away. Advertisers will always find a way to get their message out there.

What are other ways are you planning to monetize your data?
We’re talking to agencies about probabilistic ID graphs where there’s no chance of our data being combined with other data sets. This way, the advertiser is able to forecast whether the specific audience they want can be found on our sites without having to match identifies. For these types of deals to work, the advertiser must have access to large amounts of their own data.

Have there been any challenges working more closely with agencies?
Some of the agencies we’re talking to want us to mix our first-party data with the data their own so that they can buy ads off of our site. The problem is they need third-party data to make those deals work — and we’re back to square one.

So the data you sell to agencies can only be used on your sites?
We’re not sharing cookie IDs or user IDs with agencies because we don’t want to end up in a situation where our users feel like we betrayed their confidence. Instead, we’re exerting more control over how our data is used. That means that agencies can only use the data we trade with them to target ads to our sites and subsequently measure the performance of them. Agencies will eventually have to come round to the fact that everything is becoming more site-centric and publisher-focused. The old notion that media buyers could reach any user with the same campaign across 30 sites using the same third-party data set is no more. There’s no future in cross-site tracking

If you’re working more closely with advertisers, is the aim to eventually disintermediate ad tech vendors and platforms like Google with your own end-to-end system?
I understand the rationale, but building our own ad tech stack isn’t a priority at this moment. It would require substantial investments in technology. And even if we had the technology we don’t have the expertise internally to make it work. We’re a media company first and foremost. Owning an ad tech stack that covered both the sell and buy-sides of how our ads are traded would mean we’re no longer giving control of the process to intermediaries. Take supply-side platforms, for example; they were ad tech vendors that were friends of publishers whereas now we see many media agencies operating their own SSPs and integrating directly into our header bidding solutions, which subsequently gives their trading desks immense knowledge about how our ads are sold. SSPs are closer to the buy-side of advertising. We’re lacking friends in the ecosystem.

Aren’t SSPs trying to salvage the relationship with publishers by helping them to monetize their data?
SSPs are trying to negotiate partnerships with us because once third-party cookies disappear they will lose their way of trading user data across the ecosystem. SSPs must give up on the notion that they should handle data. First-party data for us as a publisher is the data we collect from our users, whether it’s with their consent or without it through legitimate interests, for advertisers to buy ads on our sites. If we start combining that data or sharing it with other companies like ad tech vendors then it just becomes a new set of third-party data, which the browsers would block. We want SSPs to stick to what they’re good at, which is displaying our inventory – they’re not the first-party business to anyone in advertising.

Earlier this month, Google started asking publishers to explicitly label the third-party cookies that can be used on other sites in its Chrome browser. Has the update posed any challenges?
We’ve reached out to all our tech partners and they’re doing the appropriate changes right now, so it doesn’t seem to be a big thing for them. And obviously, we looking through our own cookies as well but we really don’t expect a noticeable impact.


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