Say Goodbye to the Cookie

Dave Hills is CEO of Twelvefold, an ad targeting company.

With news that Google considered getting rid of cookies in favor of anonymity-protecting alternatives, advertisers are understandably concerned about how they will operate in a cookie-free world. And they should be. The cookie is heading for the exit doors.

Audience-based targeting methods have traditionally used cookies. The discussion now has to be about what comes next, not about all the dislocation that we think might occur as cookies are phased out. Although cookies have been very effective over the years, they’re neither the most useful nor the most desirable option in today’s world. Cookies simply don’t work in a mobile world, and they don’t take into account the environment the audience is in at that moment, which can be a very powerful signal of intent. We should just acknowledge that and move on. It’s time cookies give way to new and better methods of targeting ads.

Through real-time bidding and exchanges, we can now see, understand and use all ad opportunities at the impression level and in real-time. This is a very powerful tool. Publishers large and small can list all or part of their inventory, and buyers can look at it in the moment of consumption. It is this moment that answers the right time leg of the ad targeting tool. Thanks to big data, we have the chance to develop methods that derive signals at the moment and at the impression level. It’s a very exciting development.

We’re also beginning to understand how to operate in a device-agnostic world. Consumers have made the decision they’ll consume content where they want and on whatever device they want. The industry infrastructure that is taking shape will allow us to harness mobile and create ad targeting that works across all screens. This goes hand in hand with the ability to evaluate impressions in real time. Better understanding of the device will improve targeting effectiveness.

Attribution is changing as well, and that will also drive ad targeting changes. The industry has outgrown the old methods of attribution, and we’re seeing real innovation by brands and agencies. By better understanding the path someone took to a conversion, rather than just the last click or view, we’ll have a lot of powerful data to improve effectiveness.

With all of these new tools to develop better ways of targeting audiences, we can also add the long-needed element of transparency. Transparency needs to be cultivated and driven hard. It will help everyone better target ads.

Cookies have been a great transitional technology, but they aren’t the best way to understand or target the desired consumer. They only speak to a person’s past, not the present or future. In order to scale, the ad tech industry needs to focus on context. Understanding content at a very deep level answers the question of why someone is reading content at that moment in time. Technology that deduces what the content is about at the page level lets us understand the mindset that content creates with its audience. And that leads to the best possible ad targeting.

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