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That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

And Other Takeaways from the Digiday Summit

Once upon a time, not so long ago, most of us living in Medialand envisioned a near-perfect future in which unobstructed consumer trackability would present unlimited advertiser prosperity. Armed with our big basket of magical cookies, we’d be able to follow our prospects everywhere they went, every time they went there, and surprise them with our repetitive pleas until they finally succumbed to our charms. Oh, man… it was all so beautiful.

But the future ain’t what it used to be. Nowhere was that more evident than at this year’s annual Digiday programmatic publishing summit. Widely regarded as the premier event for media leadership, this year’s invitation-only conference was my fourth and provided an invaluable opportunity to visit with other thought leaders, test new hypotheses for creating more progressive solutions and envision the future of our industry.

For instance, the prospect of a “cookieless” world still seemed to dominate many of our conversations, despite the fact that – for the most part – it’s the world in which we’re already living. As I sit down to write this, Chrome is the only major browser still allowing advertisers to leverage third-party cookies, and the sunset of that option is on the horizon.

To which I can only say, “Hurry, sundown.” Because if we’re all willing to be honest with one another, we’ll admit the cookie experience has never been a completely satisfying one for any of us – consumers and advertisers, alike.

Sure, the ability to track aggregated browser behavior across large subsets of users has been a boon in terms of access and attribution. But has any of this cyber-stalking really helped us build positive brand relationships? Is attribution really the ultimate goal of all digital marketing?

I think not. It seems to me the ultimate goal of any form of marketing is to serve the market; to discover what the consumer really wants (regardless of the words they might type into a browser or the “free” content they might view as they’re wandering around the web) and then find an engaging way to give it to them.

Which is why I believe our new future – a Web 3.0 that provides a more satisfying experience for all concerned – will be built on a foundation of content and context.

Contextual Targeting

While some advertisers may still see contextual targeting as an old pony from earlier days when the biggest, loudest, most disruptive ads on the page were the dominant spending practice, progressive agencies like Modern Impact are successfully leveraging it in new ways as a strategic imperative up-and-down the marketing funnel. We’re engineering campaigns for the next generation that combine new contextual audience targeting with traditional third-party cookie tactics to create complementary impact.

Predicating the placement and content of your message on actual content consumed by your best prospects (instead of just the basics of their online search) opens a whole new world of relevance.

Take TikTok for example. Their consumer algorithm doesn’t rely on what the user types in the description line or uses as a hashtag. They’re processing every audio and video made, then categorizing it so users see content that’s immediately relevant to them based on their personal consumption.

Contextual targeting helps ensure the content of your ad is directly related to the content of the site or app being accessed, and that helps ensure it’s consumed – if only because it feels less creepy. (We all know the feeling you get after looking at a pair of shoes and then seeing that ad when you’re just checking email).

But enhanced user experience is just one of many improvements in marketing precision made possible by Web 3.0 and contextual targeting. Web 2.0 can target keywords and hashtags within an HTML group, but it’s done in a more “manual” way that can’t evaluate context.

Conceptual Thinking

So why aren’t more marketers jumping all over contextual targeting? Why hasn’t this already become as popular as third-party cookie-based tactics?

Because it’s not easy. It takes effort and diligence and patience. Perhaps most frightening, it requires a significant change in thinking. It means changing your point-of-view and adopting the new Web 3.0 – which also means forsaking the current trend in third-party buying in exchange for contextual assumptions that are well-conceived and strategically placed. And that can sound a bit like the old days. But it’s not.

Some of us have become so attached to the idea of attribution that we can’t imagine adopting new strategies that might provide less of it; or at least a different kind of it.

The fact is not all media attribution is necessarily “good” attribution. Increased (and warranted) concerns regarding data privacy on the part of consumers and advertisers alike raise a number of issues regarding the future of media strategy. How can we continue to advance accuracy, efficacy and transparency in ways that will somehow satisfy both parties?

Avoiding placement across iOS devices or premium browsers just because we can’t optimize and measure performance in the same old ways isn’t an option. These tactical roadblocks shouldn’t mean less advertising through those channels because, ironically, these audiences will be of greater value. These are the consumers more likely to engage with relevant content, respond in the form of greater purchasing, and inclined to become loyal, long-term customers.

But measurement of these audiences won’t always show up using our current digital tools, so we’ll need to rely on a more sophisticated client feedback loop that reports the results they’re seeing from these campaigns.

Collaborative Planning

The truth is all media is “performance media” if we plan, place, manage and measure it properly. Thoughtful reassessment and realignment of our marketing KPIs may be the first step. A deeper dive into our first-party data that provides better understanding of our best customers is the second. Followed by creation of truly relevant content that will resonate with look-alike prospects and compel them to take action.

Of course, as mentioned previously, all of this relies as much on a change in organizational thinking as it does on a change in marketing tactics. And that’s the real challenge. Finding the right minds to help perform the steps above and chart the way forward is more daunting than ever in the midst of the COVID-induced Great Resignation.

Great talent is becoming increasingly scattered, both geographically and ideologically. But Modern Impact has already assembled the right team for you. It’s the reason more category-leading companies are looking to us to lead their digital transformation, and an opportunity for your company to start building a more promising future.

Jared Hall

Author Jared Hall

As both a student and master of digital and programmatic practices, Jared Hall leads display, social and video activation for the clients of Modern Impact. Prior to joining our team, he built a strong record of success and full complement of case studies introducing the Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA Class to Millennials, launching a national music tour, applying his CPG expertise to promote luxury retailers and driving demand for pharmaceutical marketers. A native New Yorker with a Midwestern work ethic, Jared spends what little free time he has in trying to find a decent parking space.

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