Reports of the death of the cookie are repeatedly exaggerated. But the emergence of a "Big Three" set of advertising giants - Facebook, Google and Verizon - make Google's recent announcement of "moving away from the cookie" an important change.
At Advertising Week in New York, Google announced updates to their cross-device measurement and targeting capability. Connecting display media exposure with in-store visits. Targeting and sequencing across devices throughout a campaign. Cool stuff, particularly if you’re a retailer wanting to understand how TV, video, search and display (on mobile and desktop) affect your business.
This focus on cross-device, and mobile in particular, highlights a big challenge of measurement today: linking a “device graph” of many gadgets to one person. IP addresses, Cookies (for browsers) and Ad IDs (for apps) are difficult to combine into an accurate single user ID. It’s much, much easier if the user is logged in to a service – say to Google Maps, Gmail, Facebook or Yahoo! – to unite all these devices.
What does the change mean?
Measurement and targeting that privileges log-in over cookies is fine if you have scale and variety of services and devices. Excluding China, right now that means Google, Facebook and a “Third Force“, Verizon which has over a billion first-party users via Microsoft/XBox, AOL, Yahoo!, Millennial Media & Flurry Analytics.
If cookies stop becoming the primary currency of digital exchange, that puts the remaining industry players (publishers, networks and the ad tech ecosystem) at a significant disadvantage: crafting data-share deals with the Big Three at best, dying off at worst.
With 50-70% of digital media investment already going to Google and Facebook, the market needs diversity to maintain healthy competition.
What does it mean for advertisers?
Advertisers and their agencies must always seek out the best, most accurate methods of targeting and measurement. If better solutions to cookies arise, we must explore and embrace them.
However, it’s critical that these Big Three be held accountable, auditable and compliant with third-party verification standards. Facebook’s recent video metric mistake is an example of the scale of error that could go unchecked. Only advertiser dollars have the power to sway product strategy and ensure it services advertisers as well as the providers.