Why boldness matters for publishers in the post-cookie future

Michael Zacharski, CEO, ENGINE Media Exchange (EMX)

Fortune, it is said, favors the bold, and for digital publishers, the prospect of a cookieless advertising future should be viewed first and foremost as not only an opportunity for boldness, but as a time when boldness will be necessary.

As an industry, marketers need to be bold and recognize that putting too much power in a few giants does not benefit consumer choice and society at large. Bold action is required to ensure this does not happen. 

Society as a whole, in fact, benefits from ensuring that publishers have a long-term sustainable model for the use of data in digital advertising. If publishers fail, consumers lose choice and access to information as well as the diversity of ideas that the internet has unlocked, which is core to a free and democratic society. 

For publishers to succeed, they need to have control over their consumer relationships and data. The stakes are high, and they shouldn’t lose sight of the forest for the trees in the complicated and technical discussion around the cookieless future — and the path forward on data usage in the future of digital advertising. 

Difficult-to-follow data solutions leave the future of the open internet in the hands of a few

Many in the industry have obfuscated the bigger picture of the cookieless discussion with a myriad of solutions, technical nuances and granularity — making it difficult to follow and understand. 

In doing so, many companies have not only failed to educate consumers, but have also alienated them as well as many of their industry colleagues. From the FLoCs (Privacy Sandbox), SWANS and EIDs, a black box of acronyms have been created that are challenging to follow, leaving the future of the open internet in the hands of a few. 

Where does this leave things? Are publishers and marketers in general asking the right questions and solving the right problems? Has the narrative around privacy been hijacked to serve the benefit of a few companies rather than helping to solve the real issues at hand?

Take for example the recent coverage of FTC’s Rebecca Kelly Slaughter’s comments advocating data minimization and suggesting we should shift the focus from “privacy” to “abuses.” Data use itself isn’t the problem, privacy infringements and the misuse and abuse of information are. 

What the industry should focus on is how to empower publishers and support a path forward with publisher first-party data that builds trust with consumers. Publishers need an ad marketplace that puts greater control in their hands, including first-party data and other data applications that promote consumer choice and minimal data tracking. Consumers need an easy way to consent and opt-out. 

Post-cookie solutions need to serve and empower companies of all sizes

Stakeholders need to ensure that post-cookies solutions do not cripple the digital economy and favor the biggest companies while alienating small and mid-size publishers and creators globally.

In an ecosystem that is crowded with middleware players and layers — from DMPs to DSPs and resellers — there’s room to innovate and bring advertisers closer to the source (i.e., publishers and consumers). By removing middle players and “dataware,” the industry can empower both publishers and advertisers. And finally, there must be a focus on data transparency ethics related to data collection and use, as what is legal often lags behind what is right.

There are cookieless solutions in development that support data connected marketplaces with publisher first-party data while using a minimal amount of data to provide marketers and publishers the outcomes they seek and the tools, transparency and control they deserve to maximize their value and own business and consumer relationships. 

Creating a new model that applies data at the SSP level minimizes hops and “dataware” brokers so that publishers and advertisers can win. If marketers have learned anything from the past decade of digital advertising, putting too much power in a few giants does not benefit consumer choice and society. 

Now is the time to take control of the future of digital advertising and use this opportunity and moment in time, as the industry is figuring out the cookieless future, to shape one that creates a sustainable ecosystem for publishers and the industry.


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