Unnoticed and unknown by most people in the advertising industry, the internet cookie, that tiny text file that holds information about you, your web browser and your online behaviour when browsing the web, will celebrate its 25th birthday this July.

How it all started

In July 1994, an engineer at Netscape Communications was looking for a way to keep track of users’ shopping carts without overloading the server. He decided to create a little file, saved in every single web browser to store that information. The birth of the internet cookie.

Just to set this into perspective. This was 4 years before Google was founded and 10 years before Facebook started as a nice little network for Harvard students.

Since then, the cookie has helped us advertisers to create more and more targeted and relevant advertising, track our clients’ users across the web and remarket to them anytime and anywhere.

Browser centric vs user centric

But did we really talk to one and the same user? In a time of AI and exponential growth in technology, we are still holding on to a text file that tells us what websites have been visited with a single device on a single browser, as the cookie is exactly that: it identifies what websites have been visited with let’s say the Safari browser on a user’s laptop. We don’t know what that exact same user is doing on his Chrome browser that might be installed on the same laptop, or her/his mobile phone or Alexa or if the whole family is using the same browser.

Am I the only one wondering how we can still hold on to a 25 year old technology that tricks us into thinking we know a user based on his/her browser behaviour while research shows us that by 2020 there will be around 6.58 network connected devices per person around the globe?

Yes, the internet gives us the perfect illusion of “everything being trackable” and “the ability to drive users seamlessly down a funnel” from awareness to consideration and conversion or “showing the right message, to the right user, at the right time”, but can the good old cookie really deliver all that?

We are currently in a time of change and many marketers and agencies have been facing the news of ITP 2.2 which Apple released in April with a cry of disbelieve. In many respects, Apple’s ITP 2.2 makes analytics, measurement, retargeting and many other user data-based practices more challenging while strengthening the privacy of users.

Expect some disruption

Yes, it will disrupt the current advertising landscape and companies that are specialised in remarketing will see their stock drop overnight. We as an industry will need to sit down and redefine relevant and user centric advertising, not by following users around the internet, but by being transparent, gaining their trust and listening to them.

Sean Healy, Chief Strategy Officer at Carat mentioned in his summary of the Cannes 2019 Beach House Sessions that, going forward, it is extremely important to understand Gen Z and Gen Y.

“They don’t want people to tell stories to them. They don’t want storytellers; they want story doing.

There is that real sense that they’re a kind of activist cohort. They’re going to judge brands on whether or not they’re useful and do good and I think that they insist upon being represented and seeing themselves represented in a way that they think is authentic.” And this includes to respect their privacy.

Is this the end of digital advertising? 

So, is digital advertising dead? Quite the opposite. I think we are at a point were we can say good bye to the old way of targeting, tracking and behavioural analysis and embrace a new and exciting future where users will give us their data in exchange for ease (allowing them to book their holiday based on what we know about them), relevance (adjusting the user experience on the homepage to products and services that are useful for the user) and transparency (showing the best prices and openly telling why we might be more expensive than the competition). Companies must start to see their users as partners. 

In my opinion, the outcry, similar to the day that Apple killed Flash, will leave us with food for thought, it will spark new inspirational ideas, maybe even lead to completely new start-ups and just like with Flash, in 12 month from now we will all be better off. We will all have more privacy, companies who get it right and listen will gain more trust and earn more revenue via more connected devices than ever before.

And I predict we will not miss the cookie at all.

ITP 2.2 - 10 things you should do right now!

  • Don’t panic!
  • Keep using remarketing, but closely screen your frequency as your remarketing pool will shrink as you will no longer be able to remarket to Safari users.
  • Start reporting impressions and revenue by channel and browser over time (week over week, month over month) to see what impact ITP 2.2 has on your channels and campaigns.
  • Go back to basics and use “Affinity”, “In Market” and “Life stage” targeting.
  • Use Contextual targeting to show your messages within relevant content.
  • Use eDMs to get your personalised message in front of your customers.
  • Segment your users and create Facebook Audiences based on email addresses, phone numbers or device ID to target them.
  • Match your user data with local media partners that have login data (Trademe, NZME, Neighbourly, TVNZ, Mediawords, etc) as they will be able to find them.
  • Partner with price comparison and review websites to reach users who are interested in your product or product category.
  • Keep a close eye on the market for cookie-less tracking alternatives from Google and other Martec providers.

Falk Werner, Carat New Zealand

Digital Client Lead