The future of cookies is unknown and much of the industry is scrambling to maintain consumer confidence in the digital advertising ecosystem. At the heart of the fear, uncertainty, and doubt is consumer privacy. The challenge of our industry is not the cookie. The challenge is that we have progressively lost customer confidence and it’s time to get it back together.
Enter Project Rearc. At IAB’s Annual Leadership Conference, there was much discussion of the post-cookie world. “Project Rearc,” as in re-architecture, was also introduced; it calls on IAB members to build a replacement for third party cookies. In an effort to “rebuild” the digital advertising ecosystem, Project Rearc is asking the industry to develop a new identifier that works across browsers, adheres to privacy standards and doesn’t rely on third-party cookies.
The spirit of Project Rearc is good in principle. It’s the first attempt to create a neutral environment for all players to collaborate and discuss potential options. It is still in its early stage, however the main principle is to “put consumers at the center of everything we do.” That is the exact kind of thinking we’ll need to do as an industry.
What are the existing Unique ID solutions?
Unique ID solutions were initially created to optimize the cookie-matching process. The idea is pretty simple: running a single synchronization instead of one per ad-tech partner. So, by definition and despite the hype around it, these solutions fully rely on 3rd-party cookies.
An exception is Liveramp, which uses IDL (for Identify Link). IDL can work without cookies by associating an ID to an online identifier such as a mail address. This is neither a novel, nor optimal approach.
How do we win back consumer confidence?
Cookies are not the real problem today. Privacy is now a real public concern. The problem is not about how the user is identified and tracked. The problem is in figuring out how to provide the control and the understanding of what happens when they are tracked.
One common misconception in the industry is assuming we can replace cookies with logged-in traffic. The problem here, as opposed to cookies, is that a mail address is both persistent and easily linkable to a physical person. Furthermore, the data privacy associated with a mail address is managed through barely understandable Terms and Conditions that only few users are really reading. In other words, it’s hardly a solution to privacy, when your data can be used to gain a lot of personally identifying information which the user unknowingly gives consent to.
We must work on finding a solution that allows the user to take control regarding what they share, with whom, and for what purpose. We also have to do this in conditions that the user can truly understand. This means, for example, not asking consumers to provide their consent for ad-tech players that they’ve never heard of (a la GDPR). Instead, we need to develop a solution that would provide clear benefits to users being willing to share more information.
What could this value exchange look like?
First and foremost, focusing on communicating and delivering the clear benefits should be our primary goal. For example, we need to develop a way for the user to declare preferences (i.e. via a whitelist or blacklist) regarding the type of ads that they would be willing to receive. They could do this manually, by choosing product categories, advertisers, or specific industries of interest. Or we do this automatically by letting algorithms “inspire” the consumer to decide based on a set of basic opt-in information such as age, gender, or interests and behavior inferred by website visits.
The more the user decides to declare granular data, the more benefits we need to provide. On the advertiser side, the user might, for example, be rewarded with coupons and discounts from brands (on top of seeing only relevant ads). On the publisher side, the user declaring granular data and accepting a wide range of ads could get access to more premium and specific content.
We could end-up in a win-win situation that would provide control & useful recommendations to the end-user as well as a better ROAS for brands (user engaging more with the ad because they expected to see it).
It will be a long and complex journey to turn those principles into a concrete actionable solution. And at this stage, creating such a solution is not just an option. It’s a need.