‘Publishers are going to screw it up’: Confessions of a CPG marketer on life after third-party cookies

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Marketers have for years relied on a mixture of their own customer-relationship management databases and third-party data vendors to build audience segments to target online. But with a raft of new data regulation giving consumers more control over their information and recent moves from browsers to throttle third-party cookies, marketers are figuring out to navigate a more privacy-focused landscape.

In the latest edition of our Confessions series, where we exchange anonymity for candor, a marketer at a large CPG company explains how they are navigating the changes and warding off confusing pitches from their agencies and vendors.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

How are marketers coming to terms with the third-party cookie news?
I think the gap between the haves and have nots in digital marketing is becoming wider and it’s increasing faster than people can catch up to it.

Everyone has always sat on the sidelines and then when they reluctantly got involved [with data], then it was like, “We are not going to do [identity]. But we have high standards so we are going to use these partners to handle it.” Now these partners are getting cut off at the knees and now they’re just all screwed.

Who’s ‘they’?
It’s the marketers. It’s the agencies. It’s the ‘identity’ players. And for, the most part, a good chunk of publishers who have always said, “Oh, well, we don’t track everybody, but we have the cookie, right?”

Is there a lot of conflation of the separate regulatory and cookie issues out there in the market at the moment?
There’s a lot of conflation and a lot of people thinking [they know] what the impact is. The ones that are most confused are the agencies. They take talking points and they’re throwing them out there. They’re like, ‘Don’t worry. We are going to find you guys the right partners to work with.’ I’m like, ‘Appreciate it, but no. We’ll steer our own course.’

That’s really going to be the gap: When the marketer and the publisher are working directly, where does a data vendor, ad tech partner, media agency fit between the two of them? What’s their role other than just the execution of the media?

Don’t most marketers need vendors because they don’t have their data in order?
If you were data-poor, if you don’t have a direct relationship with the customer and you’re going through somebody else, your world is going to be bad. You might as well go back to demographic-targeting because there is no relationship that you own with the customer to say you have the right to target them. Spend the money on TV and have at it.

If you’re going to be a digital marketer in the new 2020s, you really have to have a full program around having that relationship. The distance between you and the customer has to be zero.

What are you planning to do while everyone tries to figure out what replaces the third-party cookie?
The next 18 months will be very focused on providing internal education for the teams to understand our process moving forward. And then working with the media activation teams to really identify the level that we need to replace. I think generally right now it’s less about partners — it’s more about process.

In many cases our data seller partners were selling us audiences that have been ingrained in our business. If those go away, what metrics we are going to work against? Anything cookie reliant, we will have to map it out and we will have to replace it.

That’s probably where the real winners will be the consultants. Whether or not talent gets brought in-house, you just can’t outsource privacy and data protection because you’re never going to be able to do it from the outside-in. I presume I will be working with less third-party vendors but I will probably need to work with more publishers of inventory sources.

How are publishers going to fare in this new privacy-focused world?
Publishers are just going to screw it up. I don’t think they’re going to be able to think fast enough to realize what’s lawful, or what they’re able to do, and they may just not participate.

I need [contract] language to say: You can’t repurpose my audiences and you can’t model my audience base for someone else. And what kind of compliance do you have?

I have a fundamental trust of Google and Facebook in data clean rooms more than I do with publishers. [Google and Facebook] have been thoughtful about their approach. You can take what you want in and some things you can’t take out. Publishers don’t have … the talent in-house so they’re going to have to hire.

As I look at the landscape right now, I’m very happy to be at the marketer versus any of those other places.


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