‘There is no solution’: Candid thoughts on the cookie demise from European publishers

google cookie

The digital advertising businesses has been thrown into a state of flux, thanks to recent moves from browsers and regulators to restrict the way advertisers have profiled and targeted people on their sites.

During the Digiday Publishing Summit Europe in Dubrovnik, Croatia, this week, over 150 media industry execs shared the challenges they face navigating the current privacy-focused environment. Sessions were conducted under Chatham House Rule, which allows reporters to share what attendees said without identifying them or their companies by name. Here are some key takeaways.

Data regulation
Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation was adopted in 2016 and became enforceable from May 2018, yet still there are wildly different interpretations of the law among publishers and their vendors. Add in the California Consumer Privacy Act — it came into effect in January — and there’s a melting pot of different data laws for publishers to contend with.

“We decided to be very compliant and we lost a ton of revenue,” said a publishing exec. “In the last week, we’ve been to three different countries and had three different versions [of how to gain user consent under GDPR]. We’ll take the least restrictive one and apply that.”

“The Information Commissioner’s Officer themselves can’t tell us,” added another, referring to the U.K.’s data protection authority. “Quite often they ask us what this means. There’s a lack of awareness about how it will impact the industry.”

Strength in numbers
The digital advertising ecosystem is also chewing through how to replace third-party cookies, compounded by Google’s announcement to phase them out by 2022. The threat of the browsers becoming even more powerful could result in publishers working more collaboratively.

Yet, historically, publisher alliances haven’t worked out, said one publishing exec. “You see the same issues 10 years later,” the publisher said. “The difference this time if some publishers don’t do it, you sink. They are forced to do it. It has to succeed.”

Still, there appeared to be renewed hope in giving publisher tie-ups another shot.

“Publishers need to come back together,” said another attendee. “I don’t want to use the term ‘ad network’ because of the connotations, but we might see older-school trading where publishers collaborate to get scale. There are other IDs that have persistence.”

But while there is a sense of hope — or perhaps desperation — that publishers might be able to work better this time around, media execs have to be realistic.

“Browsers smell the blood in the water, they want to control that and be the intermediary where it simplifies that fractious space of small sites,” said one attendee. “A lot are perpetuating the death of the cookie because they see it as a potentially massive revenue stream. Browsers are going from being a dumb box to being able to control a lot of the conversation.”

“The major concern is there is no solution,” said another exec. “It’s just a waiting game until Google tells us what’s going to happen — I hate to say it.”

Identity Crisis
Shared IDs theoretically offer a more reliable way to identify audiences online, post-third-party cookies, and recoup lost revenue.

One publisher said their CPMS on Safari — the Apple-owned browser that introduced its Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature in 2017 —  had dropped by a third. “You can probably predict the same in Chrome. That’s probably business closing for a lot of publishers,” this publisher said. “We’re keen to hear more about ID solutions.”

But some publishers don’t like what they’re hearing from shared ID vendors and consortiums so far.

“I don’t think [universal IDs] are scalable — they imply they are universal but can’t be across 10 different companies. Most rely on cookies,” said one attendee. “At least with cookies users have the ability to delete them but you can’t very easily delete IDs on the browser. Ironically the solutions cropping up are worse for privacy.”

Education, education, education
Many attendees agreed that if publishers are to be viable in a post-cookie, highly regulated web landscape, they also need to remind agencies and advertisers about the unique value they bring to the market.

“Agencies are used to buying Facebook and Google and we just don’t have that scale and level of data, that’s where we struggle. There’s a lack of understanding [from agencies] about how they work with publishers these days,” one attendee said.

One publisher said they were seeing more brand uplift studies, which are helpful but also present a double-edged sword: “A lot of advertisers and agencies push that cost on to publishers, while it’s great to prove our efficiency for smaller campaigns it’s not cost-effective to do that study.”

Publishers must “educate the marketers that they can also have efficient media buying without … always relying on first-party and third-party data,” said another executive.


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