The Cookie is Crumbling…And That is Okay
by David Mahaffey

Oct 30, 2020


Everyone is telling us that the death of digital advertising is on it’s way. We’ve read all the white papers, ominous articles, and countless LinkedIn posts which paint a threatening picture of future media strategies, as major tech companies shift away from allowing cookies to be dropped on users. 

Taking all of this content at face value…you might think you should start looking for another line of work, because digital advertising attribution is about to go the way of the dodo. 

And, yes, some companies are likely to close up shop, rather than adjust to the changing landscape, which we saw in the wake of a GDPR rollout. However, we don’t think a broken cookie is such a bad thing. As an industry, these changes will only ensure that the nimble, intelligent companies come out ahead—as they are already adapting to a cookieless world.  

Cookie 2.0

While cookies may go away, there will inevitably be a replacement. Like all things in life, the answer comes down to money. According to Group M, digital advertising spend in 2019 was a staggering 244 billion dollars. The advantage of digital media is targeting and attribution, and the industry won’t collectively shrug it’s shoulders and watch those dollars revert back to broadcast upfronts. Whether it’s The Trade Desk’s Unified ID 2.0 (which requires an unlikely event of convincing people to give legitimate email addresses every time they visit a website), Google’s privacy sandbox, or some other alternative, the idea behind the cookie will continue, just by another name.  

Power to the Publishers

Smart publishers are now starting to recognize the gold mine they sit upon—especially those with a subscription model. Instead of letting every data company under the sun collect valuable information on their subscribers, publishers are now closing off access to everyone except for trusted partners. The Washington Post is an example of a publisher who understood the value of their audience, as they are now effectively monetizing from it. Their user data does not rely on cookies, which makes it more valuable to advertisers. They also ensure consumer privacy, so all parties come out ahead. We’re already seeing a shift away from open exchange inventory, and increasing the viability and legitimacy of first-party publisher data is one way to ensure that process is accelerated.  

How to Future-Proof Attribution

With Apple essentially killing the cookie, every agency should be having conversations with their clients right now about how this is going to affect performance media campaigns. CPAs are going to increase, and digital marketers are partially to blame. The scenario where agencies place 95% of advertising dollars are shifted into retargeting, in order to cookie-bomb users until they take an action on a website to drastically lower the CPA—making said agency a hero—will no longer work. Agencies are going to have to dig deeper into their clients’ business objectives, and focus on improving performance there, as opposed to strictly advertising metrics to build out media strategies. 

Ultimately, what is the outcome of a crumbled cookie?

Your cost-per-lead, acquisition, purchase metrics are inevitably going to rise. This is unavoidable due to changes in technology for the big players like Google and Apple, which no agency can prevent. But, smart agencies who work hand-in-hand with their clients, to better understand their business and increase the bottom line, will rise to the top.

Have more questions about attribution and the evolution of the cookie? Please reach out, we love chatting about changes in marketing technology, and how it might affect businesses like yours.