Digital Ads in 2022: Death of the Cookie?

To start the New Year, Jenn Bowie, our digital media buyer, and Aylwin Lo, NOW’s creative technology specialist, sat down for a conversation about cookies. The digital kind!

They talked about how the use of cookies is changing and what that means for our campaigns and the ability to reach audiences.

Spoiler alert – building your own community of supporters is going to become even more important to helping you reach persuadable audiences who share your interests.

Here’s what Jenn and Aylwin had to say.

Aylwin: Let’s start with the basics, Jenn. What is a cookie?

Jenn: A cookie is a little bit of code that your browser uses to communicate information back and forth with a website you’re visiting, like what you looked at, if you filled anything out, how long you spent and what you clicked. From an advertising perspective, a cookie lets you build and track different audience segments – helping you to reach them.

AL: The cookie is something that we’re used to seeing and hearing about. But it’s going away. Why is that?

JB: Not all cookies are going away. First-party cookies that allow your browser to communicate directly with the site it’s visiting will still exist, but third-party cookies that allow sites to share information with advertisers are being phased out.

A lot of it has to do with Google’s business model. Google Chrome has something like 83 percent of market share in North America, which is huge. And other browsers are following what Google does to make sure that they stay competitive with Chrome.

AL: Okay, so it’s not fair to talk about “the death of the cookie”? Is it more accurate to say that the cookie is just becoming a first-party tool rather than a third-party tool?

JB: Yes, I would say the “death of the cookie” is, actually, more of an evolution.

Remember when the pandemic started and people really got into baking? I saw Oreos baked into chocolate chip cookies. And I thought, “That’s kind of an evolved cookie!”

Now, our digital cookies are evolving, too. This is not necessarily bad and it’s not necessarily good, but the unknown is what keeps us media nerds on top of our game!

Cookies, evolved. (Source)

AL: What do we expect will replace third-party cookies?

JB: That’s the million-dollar question!

There’s a couple of different efforts. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is working with digital providers on the Unified ID (UID) and Google has also introduced something called Privacy Sandbox.

It’s not clear which of those two things – or if both of them – will be used moving forward.

COVID has complicated this situation and slowed things down, as well. When the “death of the cookie” was first announced, it was supposed to happen in 2020. Then it was supposed to be gone by June 2021 and now it’s looking like it will be late 2022 at the earliest.

AL: What does this all mean for advertisers? What are media plans going to look like, going forward?

JB: Strong media plans will be based on first-party data. And I can see a lot of campaigns moving towards direct buys and real-life indicators.

I also see contextual methods coming back in a really big way for the programmatic space. So, rather than matching content to audience behaviour, it’s more likely to match ad content with the context of the page.

If you’re reading an article about health care, you might get an ad related to health care, or if you’re reading an article about the importance of education and childhood development you might get an ad from a teachers’ union. It will be much more common to align the content to the context of the ad.

We’re constantly checking in with the companies we buy digital advertising from about what this cookie change means for the services they can provide. And we will continue to only use vendors that can give us reporting that can be validated because, at the end of the day, that is the most important thing. It’s about delivering quality results – and that’s what we’ll continue to do for our clients.

AL: Is there Canada-specific knowledge to keep in mind?

JB: Canadians are a very different population to those in other places. So it is incredibly important to understand how vendors are coming to the conclusions they’re coming to. Sometimes they will come to you with bright shiny things, thinking they have the best stuff around, but it comes with six asterisks and it’s based on U.S. data, not Canadian data.

It’s more important than ever to understand the credibility of who you’re working with, and ask those important questions – and really challenge people on what they’re telling you. There are people who have really amazing data but not everybody does, yet everybody will tell you they do. Vet it thoroughly and have transparent conversations with partners you trust.

Be wary of anyone who says they can get a million impressions for a hundred dollars. It’s not just about quantity, it’s about quality.

AL: How do you think these changes might affect how campaigns perform or do you think it’ll be just different?

JB: It will just be different!

I liken this to other changes in the digital space. Remember pop-ups? They were very common for a long time, and then went away. People thought that was the death of digital advertising!

But we’ve changed the way we think about advertising online. Now there’s these set positions on the page where ads exist and it’s a better user experience.

Digital media is constantly evolving. This change is a big news item but, every year, there’s a ton of little changes that get made in the digital space and it’s what makes it a dynamic and interesting medium. It can cause anxiety around effectiveness, but as long as you’re working with a team that has the knowledge that helps you succeed, you’ll be able to continue to succeed.

AL: I have to ask one last question, Jenn. What is your favourite cookie?

JB: Haha! My favourite type of cookie is one my grandma used to have – these little rolled up wafers that were long and like a straw. I really loved those and, when I was a kid at her house, we’d have them with tea. Now, every time I see them I smile because they remind me of good times. They’re called Pirouette cookies!