The death of the cookie has rocked every industry that engages in digital advertising, but perhaps none more so than publishing. Yet while others are scrambling to replace the third-party data they’ve come to rely on, publishers find themselves in a unique position ahead of a cookieless future.
With years of first-party data to draw on thanks to digital subscription growth, media organizations have a stronger voice than ever — not to mention assets every player in the advertising ecosystem wants a piece of.
But not all publishers are in a position to seize this opportunity. There are still many questions about what the future holds and how publishers can work with brands to flourish in a post-cookie world.
In our recent webinar — How Publishers Can Thrive With 1st-Party Data — we spoke to The New York Times and News Corp about how they’re navigating this industry disruption — and how other publishers can prepare. Here are the top three takeaways from that discussion.
3 Takeaways for a Cookieless Future From The NYT & News Corp
1. The Death of the Cookie Represents Opportunity
Massive change also means massive opportunity, both for brands and the consumers they want to reach. The old way of doing business — relying on anonymous data with questionable accuracy — was never as valuable as brands may have hoped.
“Everyone knows [third-party data] sucks,” said Chris Guenther, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Programmatic at News Corp. “Everyone knows its flaws. Someone was pointing out to me the other day about the gender data that’s available via third parties — that it’s basically a coin flip….”
Yet its scalability and consistency previously made it advertisers’ go-to source for audience insights — and forced publishers to plug into a complicated ecosystem based on convoluted interdependencies and data “black boxes.” The elimination of third-party cookies now paves the way toward a more transparent cookieless future.
“We’re trying to address fundamental technology flaws in our industry, customer data security gaps, things that devalue publishers from our perspective,” Guenther said. “And so, yes, we’re cognizant of the challenges it’s going to create for ourselves and others, but fundamentally it’s a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. It’s probably a long overdue thing to have this kind of change.”
Sasha Heroy, Senior Director of Ad Platforms at The New York Times, highlighted how publishers that prioritize consumer preferences will set themselves up for success in a privacy-first world.
“It presents opportunities, especially for publishers that are subscriber-first and sensitive to what users want,” Heroy said.
“The data collection practices that are happening in the industry today are not something that we want to participate in. We want to be supporting our users’ preferences, so learning how to value our advertising in slightly different ways that protect their privacy a little better is something we’re really keen to do as well.”
2. The Time to Act is Now
Google’s plan to eliminate third-party cookies has been pushed back to late 2023, but amidst shifting consumer preferences and ever-tightening privacy regulations, publishers can’t afford to wait on the sidelines or hope for a return to the past.
“I know some people worry that marketers are going to slow down,” Heroy said. “They’re not going to feel the same sense of urgency to solve this as they had, but I’m not sure that’s true. And I think in any case, where we’re headed isn’t clear, but we aren’t regaining the past. So we need to keep moving forward. And this extra time should be something we can use to solve this a little better.”
“Ultimately, internally within News Corp, it doesn’t change our sense of urgency,” he said.
But that doesn’t mean organizations should rush into adopting new technologies that claim to be a cure-all. Publishers must do their due diligence to ensure they’re set up for long-term success.
“A vendor will come in and they’ll claim they’ve already figured out the post-cookie world solution,” Guenther said. “They don’t need cookies. Then you dig in a little bit, and you’re like, ‘Wait a second. That’s a cookie right there.’”
There are no panaceas for the death of 3rd-party cookies, but it’s important for organizations to begin exploring options to see what works.
“Some of them, I think, will be a non-starter,” Guenther said. “I think some of the probabilistic identifiers, which do rely on fingerprinting, we are seeing their future probably looking pretty dim. But I think we are taking a bit of a wait-and-see attitude. We want to test. We want to learn.”
3. The Cookieless Future Will Be Built on First-Party Data
While the cookieless future is still being mapped out, Heroy and Guenther agree that first-party data will be essential.
“We’ve gone all in with first-party [data],” Heroy said. “We have spent the last couple of years building a robust suite of probably a hundred audiences at this point and counting. And we’ve seen really good adoption and performance from that. So, we are advocates of that approach.”
It will be vital for publishers to balance their internal needs against the expectations of advertisers. Publishers can use first-party data to support their own marketing, subscription, and personalized customer experience goals, but this data must also be useful for advertisers and their specific objectives.
“I know some of our businesses in Australia, for example, they’ve had a partnership with the buy side where they’ve helped sell, get leads, get email addresses, get data on their users that then goes back to the buy side,” Guenther said. “So, I think it’s an opportunity to help increase this partnership between publishers and the buy side, because we can help them again, meet their users, learn more about them and obviously meet new buyers.”
The first step — especially for smaller publishers who have previously refrained from using paywalls and relied exclusively on anonymous identifiers and traffic — is pushing users to engage with their properties in a way that produces authenticated first-party data. Next comes investing in tools that will help publishers ensure this data is accurate, accessible and actionable for advertisers. (See our CX for Advertisers Solution Brief.)
“Technology solutions are emerging or have emerged to help address that need to bring the buy side and sell side closer together, but again, in a way that is privacy compliant and minimizes leakage,” Guenther said.
In the end, while publishers find themselves in a new position of strength, much of their business model still depends on the value they can provide advertisers.
“We are on the hook for performing for marketers,” Heroy said. “If we can’t deliver new customers or help convert them, then we’re not in on the plan.”
Watch the webinar — “How Publishers Can Thrive With 1st-Party Data” — featuring The New York Times and News Corp to learn more about how publishers can prepare for a post-cookie world.
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