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The Provocateur: No cookie, no problem


Who would have thought that an announcement from a media owner about a text-only string of information would cause so much alarm, speculation and general doom-mongering within the media and advertising industry? Aren’t we meant to be an optimistic bunch?

Here are three reasons why I reacted to the Google news in the opposite way:

No1 Planning

Google’s announcement should be a cause célèbre in the planning community (and beyond). For too long planning in its holistic sense has been relegated to a back seat role, looking on as others pedal a more binary view of advertising’s future where data is all or nothing

The result has been a one-dimensional approach to planning; Profile audience, find audience using data, serve message to audience. Leaving aside the inherent inaccuracy of cookies (particularly third party but also first) for this type of targeting, incredibly important parameters got relegated. Temporal context, like when a message was received. People’s receptivity to messages in different environments and at different times. The congruence of a message in a particular surrounding. The broader context of moments and culture in which the message lives.

Google’s announcement gives planners the opportunity to reclaim context and should herald a return to a more rounded, multi-dimensional, considered and empathetic approach to planning.

No2 Performance

Somehow, the idea that cookie-led targeting trumps any other form of communication for advertisers has snowballed into received wisdom. Very few have paused to challenge or critically examine the claims that are made. Those that did ran the risk of being labelled laggards, ignorant of the new rules in a new media age. Healthy scepticism = out of touch.

The use of data-led targeting redrew the media landscape along brand and performance lines, traditional and digital, mass and targeted. In doing so it reframed long-established approaches to planning – from research methodologies, to planning methods to measurement approaches.

The planning community has been a lone dissenting voice and, in all honesty, too muted in its protestations. But now we have a chance to conduct perhaps the greatest pre/post test ever (ironic that a cookie-led performance approach will now be subject to such a test). What will be the impact of Google’s announcement on the only metric that matters, brand growth? There are anecdotal examples (Adidas, Airbnb, Uber) but now we can truly quantify the incremental (or not) contribution of cookies over other planning parameters.

No3 People

While I’m not naïve to the fact that there will be a commercial win for Google somewhere, the news can only benefit the people we communicate with. Whether they are aware of it or not, they will be less exploited and their privacy more respected. Ironically the removal of a targeting parameter designed to deliver more relevant experiences means people will have, in my view, better advertising experiences – they will be served communication based on some of the factors listed above, not because they once watched a video about putting up a shelf and are now assumed by an algorithm to be a ‘Life-loving DIY enthusiast’ or chased around the internet by a toaster they once put in their shopping basket.

The cookie-less utopia

Googles’ announcement doesn’t mean the end of data-led advertising, and nor should it. Done properly it’s beneficial for both advertiser and consumer. And, of course, performance doesn’t equal cookies (and vice versa). That would be a binary take on things. But the announcement should mean a more rounded and considered approach to planning, where all parameters are considered and the go-to default is no more.

Chris WorrellChris Worrell, Worldwide Head of Strategy

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