By Daniel Mena Garcia, audience director, Choueiri Group
As human beings we largely succeed due to our innate ability to adapt to nearly any set of circumstances. This evolutionary trend, however, has grown exponentially over the last few decades and has resulted in the production and distribution of an insane amount of information. It is said that the 21st century represents the first time when the volume of information which we produce is larger than our own capacity to process it. This phenomenon has been labelled as the era of ‘infoxication’. How did we get here?
The targeting journey
Let’s go back to the start of the last century. Printing was expensive, so the responsibility for sharing information remained limited to only a few (wealthy) people. Companies realised the need to advertise on printed material and worked to build their relationships with printers for publicity purposes. In the decades that followed with TV, radio, magazines and even cinema, mass-media communication remained unidirectional, although over time brands at least received greater options for targeting their potential customers via specific forums.
In 1989, the development of the World Wide Web forever changed the rules of the game. Media owners lost their monopoly on sharing information at scale, as the ability became accessible to anyone with basic knowledge of HTML. This ease and accessibility has only continued to grow over time. Not only did the volume of information surge, but the internet also became a disruptive force for marketers, as technology allowed them to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and track users in a faster and more personal manner than conventional channels. This was made possible due to simple files called ‘cookies’.
The most recent transformation arrived at the beginning of this millennium with the launch of Web 2.0 and the social media boom. At last, communication turned into a bi-directional dialogue. Users could interact with content generators and brands, and within this new competitive paradigm they began calling the shots. This made it critical for companies to analyse and understand their customers more than ever before.
Where will this journey lead?
In January 2020, Google announced plans to progressively remove third-party cookies from its Google Chrome browser. With the market share of that browser towering above competitors in most markets, the entire advertising industry entered panic mode.
Since cookies have served as the foundation of digital marketing efforts for more than 30 years, we must take stock of evolution and realise that previous mechanisms are becoming obsolete, or at least embrace the fact that they have limitations, especially when recognising cross-device users. But transforming an entire industry is never easy. While I don’t foresee advertising solutions co-existing with cookies in the future, I know that it will take time for everyone to get to this place of realisation.
Another challenge is the proliferation of many dispersed possibilities. Walled gardens are obviously playing a role, but apart from them, there are more than 80 companies investing in cookie-less solutions. These variables create an overwhelming situation for publishers, agencies and advertisers. While several ID solutions exist, most are not feasible. In the end, a winner will certainly emerge. In my humble opinion, Google still has a lot to say.
Within this context, everyone should already be preparing their cookie-less strategy, but without taking any extreme measures, as there is still a lot of missing information. From the perspective of publishers, user registration should become the primary priority.
I am also concerned about many agencies and advertisers using contextual targeting as a replacement for their targeting capabilities. This may not be the right approach to take since contextual targeting applied from the buy-side may be a great way to ensure brand safety, for example, but is simply not sufficient for effectively communicating with customers across the competitive ecosystem outlined above.
“We have aligned many investments to extend a comprehensive suite of products that enable brands to effectively identify and serve their users.”
At DMS, we have aligned many investments over the last few years to extend a comprehensive suite of products that enable brands to effectively identify and serve their users. In order to do so, we base our strategies on a combination of all of them. Merging the worlds of research and AI, we create addressable audiences at scale with zero-party data segments, which can be used at a variety of levels including awareness, interest or intention. They also facilitate the use of our first-party behavioural segments, which we keep improving through data-scoring labelling based on challenging A/B testing.
Contextual targeting from our side works extremely well to complement any strategy, as it allows us to affect users in real-time while they are consuming specific content and without losing reach, thanks to the behavioural segments mentioned earlier. Campaigns are naturally more effective when brands share their audiences with us. This can be done in a safe environment, for example through data clean rooms. Our measurement capabilities, which include brand-lift surveys and footfall attribution allow us to close the cycle and offer advertisers and agencies a complete strategy based on their target audience.
Over 16 years in the digital advertising industry, I have witnessed so many changes that had the potential to cause existential crises. Ad blockers, law regulations, privacy frameworks and a plethora of other threats have come and passed us by. As we go through the deprecation of third-party cookies, no crystal ball can show us what the future will look like. What we do know is that we all have enough options to keep moving in the right direction and navigate our way forward through the mist.