Beyond Cookie-less: What Will Advertising Look Like Without Identifiers?

By Jason Kalin, Chief Business Officer at Nativo

Cookies are going away — this, we know. While the whole ecosystem scrambles for replacement solutions, volumes of speculations are published each day on what exactly the post-cookie landscape will look like once the dust settles. This is useful and important thinking, but for advertising veterans who have already seen a few rounds of seismic change in digital advertising, there is a much bigger question: What happens when, inevitably, personal identifiers are completely taboo for adtech?

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We’ll always have IPs… until we don’t

IP masking, though in its infancy as a trend, seems to be following the adblocking trajectory of a few years ago. Citing security and privacy concerns, consumers are already masking their IPs: VPN usage jumped by 27% in 2020 and is expected to 4x by 2027. The next iOS masks IPs by default, and various data privacy legislatures suggest IPs are personal identifiers and therefore a protected class of data. The scales are already tipping towards a reality where IP addresses are no longer a viable option for collection and analysis at scale. 

Many deterministic and probabilistic targeting models depend on IP addresses, like recent adtech darling CTV. Some even newer channels solely rely on IPs as identifiers. But those who don’t see that IP is destined for the chopping block may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

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Return to relevance

Adtechies often romance about a return to the “Mad Men” days of art and sophistication in advertising (minus all the problematic everything-else). It’s not all just a dream: there is a growing belief, supported by a growing call from an increasingly digitally-native public, that quality in online marketing far outweighs quantity. And in a future without identifiers to categorize people or single out specific demographics, focusing on value and relevance makes infinitely more sense.

People collect and frame the ads of yesteryear — no one’s hanging banner ads up in their bedroom.

But one could imagine the Oreo Super Bowl blackout tweet could be the next NFT for auction. Maybe sponsored content like Balvenie’s collaboration with Anthony Bourdain will go down as classic pieces of documentary film-making. What these have in common is that they weren’t designed to be annoying banners that followed one around the web — rather, they were designed to fit a specific context at a specific time for a specific group of consumers. 

Context is King

It’s exactly that relevance and knowledge of the customer (which is essential 1st party data) that will supplant todays terms like “targeting” and “addressability.” And this will be the ship righting itself — a conscious step away from hyper targeting and progress towards prioritizing the consumer’s needs and interests. Once again, it will be the goal of advertising to produce quality content that entertains and educates. Allstate’s Mayhem ads probably taught people more about insurance than they’d ever voluntarily learn, while being hilarious and without reliance on intrusively specific targeting. 

Embracing change and seizing opportunity

How do we prepare as adtech platforms, advertisers, or publishers? Start by visualizing a web without 3rd party, targeted advertising. Underperforming or deprecated ad formats will be replaced. User experience will be tantamount, meaning contextually-relevant, integrated ad formats will be the upgrade of choice. Publishers can reclaim power by prioritizing the content and experience they know their audience wants. Advertisers and publishers can partner to create captivating content that makes consumers forget they are consuming an ad in the first place (or at least happy about the advertorial content they’re experiencing). Finally, adtech can seize the opportunity to provide the connections, tools and ecosystem that enable publishers and advertisers to do all of that.

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Truly opt-in,1st party targeting will be key. Publishers should continue to do what they are great at: being trusted partners worthy of receiving readers’ data in exchange for content that is educational, informative and purposeful. More than ever, it will be important this trust is not violated.

It will take a balanced effort from the tech, advertiser, and publisher sides to create a better web and seize these opportunities. First, however, will be a foundational rejiggering of what we’ve taken for granted. But in that time of upheaval lies the chance to make something infinitely better. If you’re an adtech guru, advertiser, or publisher, it’s time to think far beyond the end of the cookie — because what comes next matters more and offers an even bigger opportunity to provide lasting value and results.

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