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Crumbling Cookies

Two years ago, in January 2020, Google announced that third-party cookies would be phased out and by 2022/3 would no longer be available for companies to use. Given Google Chrome is the dominant browser, this will have a significant effect on how digital advertising data is collected and measured. NZ Marketing spoke to the team at Together, the most-awarded independent media agency at 2020’s IAB Digital Marketing Awards, to get their take on what this means for marketers.

Since launching just over three years ago, the growth of self-proclaimed media agency/consultancy hybrid Together has been eye-catching. The new kids on the media block were the brains behind the Labour Party’s record-breaking election win and seemed to be ever-present on StopPress with new client appointments, already adding Volvo, Arvida Group and the Human Rights Commission to that list in 2021. Labour’s Campaign Manager Hayden Munro described them as “world-class”, so we were keen to get Managing Partner Kris Hadley and Head of Programmable Media Suraj Barnawal’s views on the crumbling cookie.

No single solution

As big tech, publishers, marketers and agencies all strive to manage the current digital identity crisis, the first point the pair make is that there isn’t a clear universal solution that’ll give the industry what it needs while also providing consumers with more control and privacy. With the walled gardens of Google, Amazon and Facebook all jostling to deliver their own siloed proprietary solution for identity management such as Google FLoC, open web advocates such as The Trade Desk championing the more open-source solution of a universal ID, and the IAB advocating for standards associated with the W3C web consortium, they believe we’re at the edge of a proliferation of post-cookie ID solutions. 

“Unless a marketer’s objectives and budgets rationalise focusing on a single ID solution and providers, the near future looks to be a return to the fragmented digital media ecosystem seen in the early 2000s,” says Hadley.

Client-owned platforms and data 

“In response, it’s obvious that client-owned, first-party data, such as CRM databases, and app and website tracking, will be an extremely high-value component in the next era of digital advertising,” says Hadley. “First-party data should be the foundation of audience design and targeting.”

He points to the humble email address as being most likely to be at the centre of many future identity solutions, but sounds a warning. “Because consumer privacy has been a key determinant in the deprecation of the cookie, marketers have to ensure they’re offering real consumer value in a privacy-compliant way when encouraging email collection. Otherwise, that’s going to be the next target.”

He also urges caution on agency identity solutions, often touted as the fix. “Many agencies and holding companies have developed identity solutions that offer the promise of being ‘universal’. But invariably they involve a client handing over control of their marketing audiences to the agency. 

“If you’re a marketer, your audiences need to be transportable. There’s a danger with agency-run identity solutions that audience design becomes a hook that makes it hard to change agencies or, at worst, a potential
IP battleground between agencies and marketers. As a matter of principle, we’ve developed solutions that place the marketer in control of their audiences and consumers.”

By extension, Hadley argues that the value of client platforms and data has never been higher. “There’s already a renaissance in the demand for strong site tracking and tagging skill sets, and for premium analytics tools such as GA360 and Adobe Analytics alongside customer data platforms.” 

With this comes the need for agency skill sets to evolve, pushing analytics and technology consultancy from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’ expertise.

The future is bespoke audiences and data partnerships 

In talking to the Together duo, it’s clear that their vision is for targeting to evolve to more bespoke partnerships founded on business analytics. Barnawal says marketers and agencies will need to invest in closer working relationships with an extended set of partners, where these more direct and bespoke data conversations can be had. 

“This is where we’re creating some of our most effective work and where we see a growing opportunity for local publishers and data providers who can collaborate with agencies and marketers to create combined data sets for modelling, segmentation and activation,” he says. “Regardless of the ‘data clean rooms’ that the big tech players are developing to enable their own solutions, there’s plenty of untapped potential in exploring the data held and managed by strong local partners like NZME, Stuff, TradeMe, Equifax, CoreLogic and Homes, to name a few. We’re increasingly finding ourselves brainstorming with the data leads at the major local publishers, which is a major shift in the agency-publisher dynamic. In some cases, we’re even consulting to them on their technology or data infrastructure, to enable publishers to deliver on what we need for our clients.” 

He points to award-winning work for clients including First Gas, Wendy’s and Jaguar Land Rover that have benefitted from close local data partnerships. 

“The team at Together represent an analytical excellence missing from so many traditional agencies and marketing functions,” says Luke Meurant, Marketing Manager at Jaguar Land Rover New Zealand. “By combining analytics with a deep understanding of how to build meaningful partnerships, they’ve built customised audiences for both of our brands, with outstanding results. We’ve been able to leverage data partners like Equifax and Lotame, while also being led by Together on more meaningful applications of GA360 and Salesforce to make more of our first-party data.” 

Barnawal points to the importance of starting with an understanding of business and behavioural drivers before designing audiences. “In many respects, it’s forcing marketers and agencies to lean into the big questions that have always been there. What really triggers purchase behaviour in my category? What do high-value customers look like? Too often programmatic teams in agencies or in-house are buying blind to these bigger questions. We’re working hard to be clear on them upfront and building bid strategies, inventory access and custom bid algorithms that reflect them.” 

Combining Analysts & Planners & Technologists 

Both Hadley and Barnawal agree that if there was ever a criticism of digital advertising, at least since the advent of programmatic advertising, it’s that the industry moved too far from a planning-focused skill set to a trading mindset – albeit supported with data. 

“At Together, we’re seeing significant value created by combining analysts with planners and technologists,” says Hadley. “This combination of skill sets massively enhances the identification of both audiences and insights and our ability to action them, beyond what’s offered via tracking, advertising platforms and technologies like AI [artificial intelligence]. 

“The industry has to adapt. It’s interesting that while creative agencies talk about taking media-planning skills in-house, the best media agencies seem to be pushing way ahead of these skill sets being brought in-house. The MVPs [most valuable players] for a media agency today are strategists, technologists, platform activators and analysts who actively collaborate across publishers, data providers and content creators. The media game has changed.” 

It’s clear from our conversation that a world without cookies is more complex and yet also more focused. Marketers need to ensure they have the right data, technology and partnerships to enable them to target effectively, but an evolution to a world where targeting is based on business value, not off-the-shelf, pre-packaged audiences, has to be an exciting one for marketers. The team at Together certainly think so.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

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