Cookies, context and the metrics that matter – how publishers can climb the value chain

June 02, 2020 5 min read

  • Morika Georgieva, Senior Customer Success Manager

  • In conversation with Andrew Spurrier-Dawes, Global Digital Director at Mediacom

    The decade started with a bang and the bang got bigger: when Google announced it would block third-party cookies the industry knew it should change. When Covid-19 hit it knew it absolutely had to.

    If anything, the pandemic has just accelerated a process that was already underway. Publishers, advertisers and agencies were already questioning the future of the digital advertising ecosystem in light of regulatory and browser changes chipping away at the third party tracking cookie that so much of their operations were based on.

    Already some 40% of the internet is hidden from advertisers, and when Google’s Chrome switches off third party tracking in less than two years’ time the party will be all but over. 

    Agencies are pivoting to cope in different ways – and many are beginning to believe that far from the apocalypse they imagined, this could be a good thing to evolve their relationships with advertiser and publisher alike. Without cookies, the industry may be forced to return to reconsidering the value of context and focussing more on metrics that matter; that digital marketing is more than a demand satisfaction play.

    Yet there is confusion, not least behind the buy and sell side. It’s why we have been hosting a series of “virtual” publisher breakfasts in order to collaborate, learn and hear from the agencies and advertisers that make up our ecosystem. 

    At our latest breakfast I probed Andrew Spurrier-Dawes (ASD), Global Digital Director at Mediacom for his views, with questions and comments from an online audience informing this piece.

    ASD says that the death of the third party cookie is a hot topic, but he cautions that there is no one agreed way forward. “The challenge is that so many people have different points of view, not least the buy and the sell side,” he comments. “Some people are saying that it is the death of the industry as we see it, and that we’re going to have to go back to contextual targeting. Other people are saying that it’s not so bad, because we’re moving from a world of third-party data sets to more of a first-party data set that replicates those.”

    He believes that all parties need to talk more about the data accessed, the value of it and who is selling it. 

    Advertisers and agencies were already feeling the effects of disappearing audiences as a result of browsers blocking third party cookies and now, client by client, they were attempting to plot a cookie-less way forward. 

    For ASD, it could lead to a fairer digital ecosystem – better for publishers who deserve advertiser and agency support, but also better for businesses as context trumps commoditization. 

    “I’m personally very passionate that advertisers and agencies have a responsibility to fund publishing and to keep the world that we know going,” he says. “But I think that [the ecosystem] has become too far weighted in the needs of the advertiser, rather than the needs of the publisher. And that has to be addressed.”

    This, despite, premium publisher data being trusted over and above the third-party data providers. One example is in seeking affinity audiences. Through a DSP it can be hard to understand it, with questions over the value, how often data is refreshed and how it is sourced. 

    “In a previous study, we found that an ad we ran was only 50% accurate to the actual audience I wanted to target – immediately I’m wasting half of my money. The data was not what I wanted.”

    However, he believes that publisher data is far more likely to be accurate: the people selling it are far more likely to know where it’s coming from, what makes up the different classifications within the data and the value of it. “I find that extremely compelling.”

    In fact, a poll conducted during the briefing showed that for 39% of publishers at our breakfast, building first party behavioural segments was their biggest priority this year. Building long-term partnerships with the buy side to move spend to PMP and direct garnered 28% of the votes, with building a subscription/reader revenue strategy and understanding the performance metrics that matter and building a performance measurement framework both at 11%.

    The latter is of great interest to agencies with ASD suggesting that CTRs proved nothing.  He urged: “Think – what should we be measuring versus what should we be monitoring?”

    What is important  is knowing what is driving growth versus what is being measured just because it is measurable. For ASD, his focus is on what goes into a KPI. It is no longer good enough to say a Cost Per Completed View is a proxy for growth. You have to understand what goes into each element: How much does the data cost and how much does it cost to reach a human? What is a view? A completed view may actually be overkill – you may see the majority of effectiveness delivered before a 100% view and so targeting a completed view may make you optimise away from ads that will still be effective.

    “The most important things to measure are the ones that matter to the client and the ones they agreed would show success at the beginning. That is the only thing that matters. And everything else is a distraction.”