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Digital Media Buying 101: Making it in a Web Without Cookies

You may think you know the basics of digital marketing, but in the next few years, a lot could change. Why? We’re losing our cookies. Third-party cookies to be specific. While these aren’t your grandma’s double-chocolate chip recipe, they have been hoarded and coveted by digital marketers and ad tech companies for years. The internet is just not the hospitable environment for third-party cookies that it used to be, though. Safari and Firefox have blocked them for a while now, and the GDPR and CCPA only add legal precedent to calls to ban them altogether. Now, Google has announced it will end support for third-party cookies by 2022.

Digital media buyers face many challenges in the absence of third-party cookie data. The new digital marketing environment will require rethinking strategies, utilizing new techniques and mastering new skills. Therefore, it’s time to go back to school.

This is Digital Media Buying 101: a Post-Cookie Education. Class is now in session!

For Review

First, let’s recap exactly what third-party cookies are and how they work. Third-party cookies place a tracking code on the browser of anyone who visits a particular site. This code allows a website to learn a user’s browsing habits online and build a profile around them. With this information, advertisers can target ads to specific interests, sometimes with an uncomfortable degree of accuracy. The rightful claims that they invade user privacy are what make them so controversial, and are why the sun is setting on their era of rule over the digital empire.

The challenge, of course, is creating the same sense of hyper personalization without relying on invasive data collection. Digital Media Buying 101 encompasses three major objectives for a cookie-less world. And, if you stick around until the end, we have a special guest to speak to the class, too.

Lesson One: Partner With Publishers

Third-party cookies have made digital media buyers a very self-reliant bunch. Media buying has been contained on social media platforms and programmatic ad exchanges for the most part. Without third-party cookies, however, media buyers will need to find new ways to gain the insights about content consumption they need, and exchanges won’t be able to provide that source of knowledge.

To compensate for the lost data they received from third-party cookies, media buyers will need to form close partnerships with publishers. Through these relationships, they’ll be able to learn about media consumption trends of their audience - what people are viewing, what drives engagement the most, what types of brands are the most well-received and what types of ads perform the best.

Publishers are able to track the traffic on their own platform with a high level of detail, and by harnessing this data, you’ll be able to gain back the advantages of third-party cookies along with a beneficial partner in the industry.

Lesson Two: Embracing First-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies may be out, but first-party cookies are definitely on trend. These are cookies created by the website that a user is visiting, and they allow a user to be tracked from page to page. First-party cookies are helpful for things such as adding multiple items to your cart. While they might not seem like a great opportunity for advertisers and ad platforms at first, they can be quite useful in gathering information and personalization for the consumers whose data you do have. After all, only those visitors to the site who view the site as relevant or intend to purchase something are likely to accept cookies.

The profiles of these consenting users should also provide better details, ensuring that you’ll be able to better tailor your marketing campaigns. This data will be cleaner and more dependable, and you’ll be assured that any data you have was freely given by the users themselves.

Lesson Three: Explore Alternatives

As the industry shifts away from third-party cookies, media buyers should also shift their views of what good campaign performance looks like and explore other approaches to digital advertising. Now is the time to start testing out new strategies and perfecting new practices. Methods such as contextual targeting and targeting by keyword phrases don’t require the use of third-party cookies, and they’re available right now.

Social media advertising: Users on social media platforms volunteer a great deal of data such as age, job, location, hobbies, interests, major life events and other information. This will allow you to target ads with a high level of specificity on sites such as Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.

Contextual advertising: This kind of advertising is targeted to the content on a web page instead of a specific user. Typically, an automated system will analyze a page’s content and pair similar ads with it. This type of targeted advertising works on the logic that if a user is interested in the content of a particular page, an ad with relevance to that content will also likely interest them.

Keyword targeting: If you’ve spent any time using Google Ads, you’re familiar with keyword targeting. Essnetially, by targeting relevant keywords to your business in your ad copy, you’ll appear at the top of results on search engines.

These are just a few of the alternative options that currently exist. There is no doubt that digital media buying and ad tech will find innovative, new ways to tackle the issue of ad targeting in the absence of third-party cookies.

Our Special Guest Lecturer

Digital Media Buying 101 couldn’t give a comprehensive lesson on the cookie-less media landscape without bringing in our very own expert. No one is more familiar with the challenges digital advertising faces and the changes on the horizon than a digital media specialist.

“Although much is still up in the air about what the digital media landscape will look like in a post-cookie world,” explains James Pruitt, digital media specialist at The Ward Group, “I believe it will benefit users and advertisers in the long run.”

Why would he be so optimistic? Well, he points out that Google is not known for it’s altruism. “Google would not be making the move to phase out third-party cookies if they didn’t believe this move would ultimately grow their advertising business,” Pruitt explains, “and by delaying this move to 2022, they are giving themselves and other digital advertising players enough time to collaborate on how the future of digital advertising will look.”

One alternative Google is pitching is the Privacy Sandbox. This initiative will allow advertisers to use Chrome’s first-party cookies while protecting user data by moving it into the Chrome browser. The Privacy Sandbox doesn’t actually exist yet, so no one knows exactly how it will work, but ad targeting, measurement and fraud prevention will happen according to its standards.

For the future of digital media buying, Pruitt has dreams of a more stable, efficient ecosystem. “What I envision is a more streamlined path to pinpointing users cross-device and cross-platform, rather than the current fragmented method of putting together cookies from various third parties to map back to an individual.”

Digital Media Buying 101: Mentorship

Media buying is never a static industry. There are always new changes and developments, and you’ve got to stay on top of it all to find success. Fortunately, The Ward Group will always be a source of insight and guidance for your advertising efforts. Whether we’re working with digital, print, audio, video or out-of-home, our media planners and buyers will help you craft an approach that meets your objectives and your budget.

To learn more about partnering with our media stewards, contact The Ward Group today.

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