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A Cookieless World Will Unleash Creativity

An axiom of advertising is that it must evoke an emotion, but with ad tech came an overreliance on targeting and data that never quite lived up to the hype. Ten years ago, a Google study proved that 80% of an advertisement’s impact came from content, and 20% from targeting—a finding largely ignored by digital advertisers. In 2019, Gartner predicted that by 2025, 80% of marketers will abandon personalization efforts.

June 2021
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With or without privacy, data-driven targeting is long due for an overhaul. Finding the right audience is only a half, or a third, or a fifth of the battle. At some point, in advertising as in life, what you say when you are in front of a person—the conversation you spur, the feelings you spark, the connection you generate—is the hinge between something meaningful or something forgettable.

The upcoming elimination of third-party cookies in early 2022 on Google Chrome, the world’s most popular web browser, as well as Apple’s announcement of Application Tracking Transparency, have thrown marketers, advertisers, publishers, technologists and media companies into a state of confusion and fear. They are understandably concerned about the future of targeted digital advertising.

But I predict these changes will spur some of the best creative in some time, allowing brands to tell beautifully crafted stories and increase the focus on consumers and their privacy. This is not about finding an alternative to cookies; it is a much-needed push for brands and businesses to assess what data they hold, what they need, how they should use it, and, most importantly, the nature of the relationship they want to have with consumers. People want to self-identify with brands, which can be achieved only if the messages they receive are compelling and creative.

First-party cookies are not going away, and neither is the human desire for valuable and reciprocal relationships.

According to Forrester, “Creativity propels higher market valuations. Creative companies hold higher market valuations through intangible assets like brand, reputation, and intellectual property, which account for 90% percent of the S&P 500’s total valuation.”


For a long time, we could target and test at scale. Therefore, marketers have had the opportunity to take the easy path. Sadly, the possibilities of re-targeting made creative a casualty. Now, does all of this mean that targeting is no longer needed or relevant? Absolutely not. Strategic targeting with a consumer-first approach is paramount.

How can brands and businesses prepare for a cookieless future? There is no silver bullet. Creativity is the driving force, coupled with an obsession for driving personal relevance. Preparation will take a multi-pronged approach:

Create the conditions for creativity

Priority No. 1 will be for businesses to take a fresh look at their talent and reevaluate their processes and culture in order to unleash creativity. In this new world where groundbreaking ideas and purpose will play larger roles, organizations need to think differently to achieve their full potential.

Build private domain identity graphs

Increasing focus on high-quality, first-party data is critical. We need data that is actionable, relevant and applies behavioral science principles that uncover profiles of people that tell us who they are and what they do as well as why they do it. This comes from approaches such as CRM, loyalty programs and registrations/sign-ups utilizing first-party tags and first-party cookies.

Don’t get closed out of walled gardens

With the introduction of Google’s Privacy Sandbox and FloC, targeting cohorts within the Google ecosystem becomes possible, much like Facebook. Furthermore, many ad tech providers such as The Trade Desk and LiveRamp are developing solutions. Businesses should experiment and test them, identifying what works best to target key audiences with creative messaging.

Form strong partnerships with publishers

Brands must consider which partners perform best and selectively invest in their clean room matching, consent-based controls and measurement capability to test the reality. Partnerships are also key for second-party data access and contextual advertising.

Adopt hybrid measurement models

Brands that can import data into their own analytics environment and provide insights that inform better creativity and content will have a distinct competitive advantage. The qualitative methods of research, surveys, and studies of human nuance will play an important role in understanding the whole person and what matters to them.

Announcements on alternatives to identity will continue over the next 12 months, and businesses must stay tuned, be comfortable with ambiguity, and not over-react to every update. At the same time, testing and experimentation must start now.

The power of impactful storytelling and messaging will be greater than ever. Moreover, the ability to make people both content consumers and content participants will result in better data and better performance. Rather than being fearful of the future, marketers should embrace it. It has taken a while, but data will finally be used the right way—as an amplifier of creative instead of an alternative to it.

Originally published by Adage