Following Apple and Mozilla, Google communicated in January 2020, its plan to phase out third-party cookies from Chrome by 2022.

For the last ten years, the dominant ad-tech ecosystem relied on third-party cookies to manage campaign frequency, measure performance, target audience segments and allow fast-paced, efficient programmatic advertising trade.

That ecosystem helped publishers to sell more advertising inventory in a cost-effective and simple format but pushed them at the bottom of the chain. Publishers were pressured to fill their pages with as many ads as they could get away with, so much and so intrusive to hinder the user experience severely. Not to mention the retargeting nightmare for common internauts.

What about the poor quality of segments built via third-party-data? I still remember assisting to a DMP demo, with real data accumulated in a month-long test, where “female users made the 20% of a male segment”, and a segment of high-income buyers included 30% of unemployed individuals. This third-party-cookie world did not only annoy the users. It damaged brands, and it grew the mistrust between readers and publishers, consumers and marketers, media owners and advertisers.

Is there any reason to miss that all?

Let’s see the positive side of the death of third-party cookies: there is an opportunity to rebuild the ad-funded media. And a lot of work to be done.

One thing is sure: we must rebuild the advertising-funded media with privacy-by-design principles at heart. In this world to be rebuilt, the first-party data will be the new currency.

It is not written in stone that in this cookieless world the only winners will be the GAFA with their giant walled gardens. It is not written in stone that Chromes will be the advertising gatekeeper and the dictator of the new conditions to make advertising work.

Instead of complaining about the current loss of programmatic ad revenues, publishers and media makers have the chance to take back the reins of how they sell ads. They can rebuild healthy relationships between audiences and content providers and adopt ID solutions that enforce the users’ privacy preferences.

They can use the generated first-party data to deliver highly effective marketing messages. Way more effective than the current programmatic ads ecosystem.

The ones that have embraced the cookie-less environments of mobile apps and connected-TVs, like the ones that have focused on building products and content people are willing to subscribe; they will be the ones that thrive in the cookieless world.

The work to do, starting from first-party data.

A first-party data strategy is essential to prepare for this future. Publishers are already attempting to commercialise this data. And context-driven advertising is coming back to the forefront. Advertisers recognise that the context around what a user is reading, and their behaviour on a site, is a much better measure replacement for third-party data.

A FIRST-PARTY DATA STRATEGY IS, FIRST OF ALL, A SUBSCRIPTION STRATEGY.

A subscription strategy is not equal to a paywall strategy nor a registration wall. First and foremost, a subscription strategy must aim to deliver readers and viewers with better services: personalised, relevant, useful and mobile-fit. A portfolio of newsletters, podcasts, subscription-based services – even if not immediately monetizable – is of strategic importance.

And it is a crucial means to develop meaningful segments. Around each logged-in cohort, you can create a set of insights around the readers’ habits and preferences: what services they subscribe, how they engage with newsletters, and what content they consume across your properties.

You can use those sets of data to find internal lookalikes among your not-logged-in audiences. Robust tagging of your content, analytics and well-thought content are the foundation of a thriving first-party-data-driven business.

THE COMBINATION OF CONTEXT AND AUDIENCE DATA IS SUPER POWERFUL… WHO CAN MAKE THE MOST OF IT, IF NOT PUBLISHERS?

Context matters and marketers have finally understood that: they cannot accept anymore that their products to be advertised side by side with harmful or unfit content. But a safe, guaranteed context is not enough.

It is context plus first-party-data plus relevant signals that altogether allow publishers to develop “audience stories” that rival, or even beat, what third-party-data vendors used to make their USP to marketers: “Want to find a food enthusiast? They could once build you an entire back story about these users (what sites they visit, when, how they interact with your brand messages), and allow you to target them all over the web….”

DMP made for publishers, like Permutive (*), do precisely that job: they do not need third-party cookies. Starting from first-party data and processing all audience signals superfast (the so-called edge processing), they generate segments that do not require days or weeks of navigation history to become meaningful. Advertisers can upload on the platform their segments and identify matches immediately for running the campaign on the publishers’ properties.

(*) Permutive is a VC backed next-gen DMP that works cookieless. Among its customers: Condé Nast International, BuzzFeed, The Economist, Hubert Burda Media and Immediate. Visit: https://permutive.com/products/

The most tech-savvy (and well-financed) publishers developed new first-party data platforms in-house:

VOX Media launched its first-party marketing platform in December 2019.

NEWS CORP launched its precision audience targeting platform, NewsIQ, in December 2017 and rolled it out across its UK properties in 2019.

The Washington Post launched Zeus Prime September 2019, combining quality first-party-data but also with a convenient solution designed for small advertisers. 

Zeus Prime is an ad-buying user interface that allows clients to purchase seamless, high-performing formats against inventory directly on The Washington Post in real-time.

It offers detailed contextual targeting capabilities along with user-intent predictions based algorithmically on the historical audience data pools accumulated over the years.

The software requires very minimal input from the advertiser: marketers can place their ads directly on publishers websites in real-time. Creating a campaign will take under one minute and can launch within a day: it is the marriage between premium inventory and real-time buying, like on Google and Facebook.

3 – ONE MORE THING… SCALE! TO THRIVE IN THE COOKIELESS WORLD, PUBLISHERS NEED ALLIANCES.

Quality editorial products, audience understanding, subscription strategies and a common tech language with advertisers are crucial to thriving in the cookieless world, but still not enough to stand up against the GAFA. There is one more step publishers need to take.

Publishers must make alliances where they can pool data together, develop broader inventories to sell, offer convenient solutions for both audiences and advertisers.

Think about the issue of login. Nobody would love to remember dozens of login data and passwords to access their favourite digital content. People crave for transparency, and more people want to take back control over their data, all true, but all of them crave simplicity, first and foremost.

That is why the Login alliances make a lot of sense. A successful unified login is a win-win game: convenient for audiences and supereffective for targeting and delivering the right ads to people in relevant contexts and moments.

ID Alliances: addressability at scale, led by media houses and publishers.

In the last couple of years, publishers established several Login alliances in Europe: cooperations went live in Portugal, France, Switzerland, Finland and Germany.  Yet, progress has been relatively slow. But now things must accelerate, to be able to compete with the giant walled gardens of Google, Facebook and Amazon. 

The German Net-ID could be the one best positioned to play a leading role. The German consortium joins forces of United Internet (Web.de, GMX), RTL Germany, Pro7Sat1 plus partners like the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Spiegel Group, Gruner + Jahr, Scout24, Zalando, Otto Group, C&A, Conrad Elektronik, Douglas and the parcel service DPD.

The Net-ID works as a single sign-on: you do not need to fill your data on every partner site or app again. However, you behavioural data can be shared among publishers only after you have given consent to each partner to do that.

Other alliances are taking place in Finland, Portugal and France.

In France, the Passmedia.org includes ten media companies: Le Figaro, Altice, Team, M6-RTL, Lagardère Active, Czech Media Invest France, 20 Minutes, Les Echos-Le Parisien, Le Point and Radio France. They reach 80 per cent of French internet users altogether. The only data shared among the French partners is the email address of logged-in users; the behavioural data stay within the individual publishers.

Can a common pan-European Login-alliance emerge? Difficult to say. Local legislation, competitive differences, not enough pan-European publishing champions do not help. If we want to compete with GAFA, we need to solve this node. Fragmentation is still the biggest hurdle for the European digital economy. 

In Europe, outside of the EU, a remarkable project is the Swiss alliance promoted by CH Media, NZZ, Ringier and Tamedia. The approach is similar to the EU-based consortia: yes to a unified login, no to sharing users behavioural data among publishers (no cross-tracking).  

A common language between publishers and advertisers: tagging, taxonomies and segments at the Ozone project in the UK.

The backbone of this alliance is the standardisation of contextual data across all publisher partners that include The Guardian, News UK, The Telegraph and Trinity Mirror for a combined reach of 45 million unique (decoupled) users in the UK.

How does that work? Tagging and taxonomies used to be different from publisher to publisher, and different from how advertisers use keywords to identify the context. That generated mismatches between content and ads and led to wrong application of keywords blacklists (i.e. advertisements is not displayed because the content is misinterpreted as harmful).

Ozone normalises how keywords define the content, and it improves the understanding of contexts using Natural Language Processing algorithms. This alone is a big selling point for advertisers, providing a uniform way to enable programmatic contextual targeting. The second step is to use a common DMP to normalise audience segments, again an issue of taxonomies applied to audience attributes. The result is a common language to define both contexts and audience.

Common sales houses

The biggest sales alliance comes from Germany. The D-Alliance includes IP Deutschland (RTL), Gruner+Jahr, Spiegel Media, Smartclip, Axel Springer. That means: 7 TV brands, 91 print titles, 110 digital platforms and hundreds of audio content., reaching almost all German audiences. As a joint sales house with a data-driven approach, D-Alliance promises a highly targeted data offering and the development of best-of-breed advertising products to run programmatic advertising. 

https://www.ad-alliance.de/

Addressable TV and video.

Since 2019, in Germany, there is also an Addressable TV + Online Video joint venture between the RTL Group and ProSiebeSat.1 Media, named D FORCE that developed its cookieless user graph and enables an omnichannel programmatic buy of video content over ATV, Desktop, Mobile, Digital OOH. In January 2020, the Joint Venture announced the expansion into the Austrian market. In the German-speaking markets, there are already 18 Million addressable TVs. The tech core of D-Force is the Demand-Side Platform Active Agent, where ProsiebenSat.1 is a strategic investor. 

Aggregators are part of the architecture of a cookieless world.

In the post-third-party-cookie world, another type of player will see its advantage stand out: SVOD platforms and any kind of subscription-based aggregators. 

For the SVOD, the formula is simple, and it favours the broader alliances. To compete with Netflix, Amazon, Disney, more players must come together to build a robust offer, that gives reason to viewers to subscribe. The names of those European players are known – Viaplay, Salto, Brit Box.. -.

The most ambitious project is the German Joyn (JV between Pro7Sat1 and Discovery) that aims to become a pan-European leader in OTT. 

For other types of content – podcasts, news – the thing is made complicated by the fragmentation of the European publishing landscape and by the current effort of news publishers to focus – first of all – on making up the lost time in developing their subscription (and paywall) strategies.

Yet, all surveys and researches say that there has never been so much user demand and opportunity window for working seriously on a European Spotify for News. Or are you happy to depend on Google News? 

That brings to a very last point: the rebuilding of a digital marketing ecosystem for a cookieless world is not only a matter of scale, technology and user permissions. It will be a lot about inventing or creating new ways to deliver relevant quality content. Something that people want to subscribe. This job can be done to publishers, not by platforms. 

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