“The show will go on”

Tracking cookies are a near ubiquitous facet of online marketing, yet they are riddled with issues and face extinction as the market faces up to privacy legislation and performance limitations.

No one is yet sure what will happen to the cookie, but change is already underway and it will impact nearly all adtech platforms that use them for targeting, retargeting, display advertising and behavioural marketing.

Indeed, Google and Apple have already tightened control of third-party cookies for Chrome and Safari users, making it more difficult for advertisers to track digital advertising behaviour.

Meanwhile, legislation such as GDPR and the subsequent ultimatum issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to the adtech industry mean fundamental change is on the cards.

“With the decline of the cookie, like it or not, user targeting as we know it is going to have to evolve,” Peter Mason, co-founder of Illuma Technology, tells Mediatel News.

“However, smart advertisers are now asking whether other behavioural moments might help determine an audience’s relevance and likely openness to brand advertising.”

Programmatic advertising means ads can be served in real time as a user browses online, however cookie data – despite its usefulness – is often days, weeks or even months old.

This means, to date, the advertising and digital publishing industries have only been able to deploy advertising based on actions observed retrospectively. As the sector looks to evolve its offering, adtech specialists are now searching for new ways to deploy behavioural targeting tools that meet legal compliance levels.

“More attention is now being paid to the present moment and there is growing awareness that as we move around online, the content we are consuming triggers micro-adjustments to our mood which can help determine our mindset and thus how receptive we might be to brand messages,” says Mason.

While cookie-based targeting has served the industry effectively to this point, we recognise that in this privacy-first era we must evolve”

“Real-time behavioural analysis and activation, or ‘moment marketing’, has always been the dream but until recently it has been very difficult – keeping up with the live micro-behaviours of millions of online users and determining whether each one is in the optimal moment to view your brand has been a big-data processing task of insurmountable proportions.”

New developments in machine-learning and AI are now “opening up these live behaviours”, Mason says, giving brands the opportunity to capitalise on an audience’s moment-by-moment browsing journeys and react in real-time when the content being consumed is deemed optimal for the campaign.

Insurance brand AVIVA is already using the AI technology to observe the live content an audience is viewing and respond with real-time messages without the use of personal data or cookies.

“Compliance is essential to us,” says Ranila Ravi-Burslem, SME solutions director at AVIVA.

“And while cookie-based targeting has served the industry effectively to this point, we recognise that in this privacy-first era we must evolve.”

Meanwhile, financial messaging service SWIFT has been using Illuma’s contextual AI tech to expanded reach and performance in real-time without using personal data or cookies.

“It’s key in a post-GDPR marketplace,” its managing director of marketing communications, Paul Taylor, tells Mediatel News.

“We’ve been able to shift away from static audience segmentation to a dynamic methodology that is intelligent, respectful and delivers at scale.”

Although unconfirmed, the initial test of GDPR compliance – which the ICO is closely monitoring following an industry-wide consultation – suggests this new system could offer a new way of doing things.

“Whichever way the cookie goes, we must progress with exploring alternative methods to improve and evolve our targeting,” adds Mason.

“At the moment it seems there is still resistance to change, but you only have to look at the birth of social media, when the industry had no choice but to evolve, to see an example of how the marketing industry learned to view consumer behaviour in a different way and prospered.”

Mason adds that as the industry moves into a new ‘privacy-first’ era, audience behaviour analysis will not die but it will change.

“If we innovate, re-learn and choose a new moment in time then the show will go on.”

This is an updated version of an article that was first published in Mediatel News in Oct 2019 and republished this week in the run-up to The Future of Media Trading – a free streamed event taking place on May 14. Agenda now live.

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