Publishers must ensure Google isn’t the only winner in a post-cookie world

Publishers must ensure Google isn’t the only winner in a post-cookie world

Google’s long-awaited deprecation of third-party cookies presents a vital opportunity for publishers to seize the moment.

In the fast-moving landscape of the digital ad industry, we are on the cusp of another major transformation. At the heart of the next upheaval is Google’s impending removal of third-party cookies from Chrome – a move set to reshape the entire digital ecosystem.

While industry headlines have tended to focus on cookie-less solutions for brands – or, indeed, the threat of this change to third-party intermediaries – this also represents a crossroads moment for premium publishers.

It’s a moment in time that presents both huge risk as well as unprecedented opportunity.

With adversity comes opportunity

In the face of the Chrome cookie deprecation decision, there is a great deal of scepticism around Google’s true motivation.

Despite this, there’s a growing argument that the enforced disruption Google creates can serve as a catalyst for much-needed change.

Might this event trigger a pivot from a murky third-party web driven by intermediary interests to a protected ecosystem fuelled by premium publisher first-party assets?

Third-party cookies: a double-edged sword

Historically, the value of third-party cookies lay in their pervasiveness: differentiating vendors while fostering collaboration between competitors. For example, with “ID syncing”.

However, this came at significant cost to publishers, as their first-party data was collected, repackaged and disseminated by countless intermediaries, undermining scarcity and diluting its inherent value.

With third-party cookie rates already diminished, the added friction introduced by Chrome will make it more difficult and more expensive for any intermediary to collect consumer data without a direct relationship with each of the publishers on which it relies.

A new strategic imperative

Google’s move creates a massive opportunity for publishers, which must seize this moment by capitalising on their position as first-party data owners.

Collectively, this will create a fundamental shift towards a first-party-centric ecosystem in which the publisher – not adtech – takes responsibility for delivering addressable audiences to the marketer.

As this market is likely to take a more verticalised form, it will in turn require greater collaboration among publishers to achieve scale and deliver utility while ensuring data security.

Actions for change

To succeed in this transformative era, publishers must redefine their approach to programmatic.

We’re already seeing many publishers implement basic distribution strategies as the first step: determining what assets to sell, to whom, where and on what terms.

While simple and seemingly obvious, this is the antithesis of publisher programmatic of the past – more accurately described as “send everything to everyone for whatever they’re prepared to pay”.

In parallel, there’s a need for publishers to streamline the number of ad partners they engage with and, in turn, their code on page. Not only will this reduce the volume of JavaScript on page, more importantly it will help reduce costly data leakage events.

By being more selective with who they “bless” with partnership, publishers can begin to remove inefficient and low-contributing ad partners.

Strengthening first-party data acquisition is equally crucial, as is ensuring the dataset is clean, structured and ready for activation.

Note that this is not a call to pass raw first-party assets to intermediaries, because this would serve only to create downside for publishers.

The puzzle the publisher must solve is how to derive value from their first-party ID data at scale without sharing the raw underlying asset. This thinking is founded in the notion of publisher control and data leakage minimisation – and in itself requires a significant shift in mindset.

Get on the front foot

While this is an ambitious path and one that will be difficult for some to comprehend, we are already seeing many of the world’s most sophisticated publishers embrace these strategies with great success.

In addition to significantly improved monetisation, this is a path that restores the publisher as “creator of product” rather than mere suppliers of raw ingredients to third parties.

Adtech vendors will resist and that is to be expected – yet publishers must maintain clear heads, strong conviction and make decisions based on opportunity for gain, not fear of loss, in this new world.

The time is now for publishers to shape their destiny and the reward – greater control, efficiency and value – is well worth the effort. And this upside is not only limited to publishers. More investment reaching the premium web – online destinations where consumers come to be informed and entertained – will only ensure greater return for brands from their digital advertising.

It is our collective responsibility to create a world where Google isn’t the only winner.

Danny Spears is chief operating officer at Ozone

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