Advertising Guest Columns
5 mins read

Publishers know they must prepare for the cookieless future: Here’s how to do it

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

While Google has extended the expiration date of cookies in Chrome, the market realities that got us here — such as consumer privacy concerns, a scattered market of regulation and the desire for the industry to build better solutions — have not changed. As the industry resets and rebuilds, many publishers are now looking at alternatives that will enable them to continue to produce ad-supported content. However, in a recent survey, conducted right before Google Chrome extended the shelf life of cookies until 2023, ENGINE Media Exchange (EMX) found that 98% of publishers plan to implement cookieless solutions, but less than half have actually taken steps to do so.

That’s a big gap between awareness and action — and one that likely will remain, now that there is an extension till 2023. Even though there are still many unknowns, new solutions available today can help publishers build for the future and protect revenue while bridging the current gaps between publishers, advertisers, and consumers.

First things first: 1st party data will be crucial

To prepare for what’s next, publishers must begin to leverage and organize their own first-party data. Most publishers (80% of the ones we surveyed) are already capturing user information, from newsletter signups or registration. But do they know how to use it?

There are lots of options for how to get smarter about first-party data. For many publishers with small teams and in-house capabilities, partnering with outside resources may be the most efficient way. While the options are many, there’s no clear frontrunner that has emerged, so it’s important to do research and find a partner you can trust. UID 2.0 and LiveRamp remain top choices, followed by secondary and emerging providers such as LiveIntent, Merkle and Britepool in addition to ID5.

Many publishers are also investing in in-house teams to prepare for a future of many changes. It may be time to address the need for data science and analytics on your team, and to get the house in order for the big changes that are to come. By bringing together data sets and connecting identifiers now, the transition will become much easier later, especially if there is a need to re-tool tech or re-imagine consumer experiences.

Publishers have the opportunity to make use of their own first-party data in new ways as the landscape changes. Many SSPs are now supporting first-party data directly from publishers, who can upload and allow trading to others in the marketplace or make the data available through PMPs. This new revenue stream could offer additional opportunities in the post-cookie world and also help publishers control their data as well as pricing.

Consumer education is more essential than ever

Many consumers are wary about managing more logins and passwords, or accepting new agreements about how their data is being used. As an industry, we have not always done a great job educating consumers about advertising and how it keeps content affordable and accessible. Many publishers surveyed noted that most of their users are not logging in every time they visit a site or access content. As first-party data grows in importance, we have an opportunity to help consumers understand the value publishers bring, and build trust that sustains long beyond the coming cookie changes.

Publishers have known for a long time that there’s plenty of room to engage with audiences to make interaction with consumers even more valuable and relevant. Consider now the time to finally do so. Use this transition to provide something special to your consumers, and to educate them so they understand more about data and the tradeoff through which data-powered advertising affords consumers the free or ad-supported content they love.

Whether it’s creating incentives like premium content, or simply using clear language that everyone can understand, this is a moment to build a lifelong relationship with your consumers. Investing in this consumer education will pay off: It’s crucial to get critical mass participation and understanding of the tradeoffs that are being made in this new value exchange.

Innovative industry solutions are emerging – so keep track of the landscape’s evolution

Change is always hard, but without it, there’s no innovation. Although uncertainty around cookies can seem like an uphill climb for publishers, there’s also an exciting burst of creative solutions, partnerships, and new frameworks being built.

For example, the Secure Web Addressability Network (SWAN) offers a way for publishers to join together as a network, streamlining data consent-building for consumers. Consumers can “agree” to share their preferences across the full SWAN network, eliminating those annoying “accept cookies” pop-ups that are currently the norm. Or take a look at the work spearheaded by in pursuit of a single sign-on for the web to provide increased and shared adoption of the Unified ID 2.0. These types of partnerships are only just beginning to gain momentum, and it’s clear that there will be plenty of offerings that solve issues that publishers have been struggling with for years.

At the same time, companies are bringing their various solutions to market: both those already mentioned, as well as others like Epsilon, Lotame and Comscore. And of course, Google Chrome is offering FLOC as part of the Privacy Sandbox initiative and the IAB Tech Lab is hard at work with their Project Rearc, which is working to provide new solutions that allow for data onboarding while preserving privacy and removing the ability to target a specific consumer or device.

Publishers will need new tools and instrumentation solutions to understand which data solutions will drive the most value. This will be crucial to focus product and development resources and commercialization efforts. What data sources are delivering, and which aren’t adding to revenue? Which are most compatible with Demand Side Platforms and Advertisers? Publishers should make sure that their media partners can help analyze these choices, refine, and optimize.

Change is hard, but rewarding

While it’s easy to look back on cookies fondly, the truth is that there have been plenty of issues plaguing publishers during this era, and many of them are now finally being addressed. Cookies can be implicated in data loss and can be hard to track and understand true reach, as one device can be packed full of various cookies. New solutions are allowing publishers to reach audiences in ways that could have a positive impact on their long-term revenue. Embracing these innovations will make the entire sector stronger and more resilient in the long run, with greater trust from consumers built-in along the way.

We know that the next 18 months will find many publishers seeking to get their houses in order.  The long-term benefits to business growth and strategy will likely outweigh the costs. Now is the time to invest in big changes that you’ve been putting off and to build in flexibility as the landscape shifts.

Buckle up: I promise, it’s going to be fun.

Michael Zacharski
CEO, ENGINE Media Exchange (EMX)

ENGINE Media Exchange (EMX) is a leading, end-to-end technology and programmatic solution, purpose-built to evolve today’s digital marketplace.