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Third-party cookies; let’s get the job done

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Richard Reeves, Managing Director, AOP
Richard Reeves, Managing Director, AOP

Watching reactions to the delayed third-party cookie deprecation, I have been reminded of the opening lines from a classic poem by Rudyard Kipling that seems to resonate with so many situations: “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs...”

 

Since Google’s original announcement, the industry has poured its collective energies and abilities into finding and building cookie-free alternatives at maximum speed — but now finds itself with another moved goalpost. Ultimately, the overall direction of travel hasn’t changed – despite what may be an extended journey to get there. Instead of letting another Google update knock them off track, publishers need to take a leaf out of Kipling’s book and keep to their course of persistent innovation and future-proof evolution.

 

Closing the lid on real and digital cookies

Let’s get one thing clear; publishers don’t need a like-for-like replacement for third-party cookies. Even though agencies are applying pressure to ensure targeted advertising can continue in its current form, this is just one variable in publishers’ decision making. There is a collective view among AOP members that they are ready to take back control, and after all, they have a key advantage: first-party data.

 

While advertising will always play a part, publishers are resistant to allowing advertisers and agencies to dictate the way forward, and have been weaning themself off a sole reliance on advertising revenue for years. Publishers recognise the importance of nurturing direct user relationships and the subsequent first-party data that comes with them. By becoming truly data-driven businesses, publishers can open up opportunities to diversify and innovate – we’ve seen plenty of examples of this in this year’s AOP Award entries. Some publishers are focusing on creating ecommerce strategies and lead generation, while others are seeing success with subscription business models, and even hosting masterclasses – all of which are fuelled by first-party data.

 

That’s not to say our members are not testing and experimenting with alternatives to third-party cookies – they are. But it’s part of a bigger picture to improve the overall user experience in a way where publishers are in control. The commonality is that publishers are in it together, sharing the same experiences and feeling the same pressures. At AOP, we’re launching a platform to help aggregate anonymised feedback, and collectively assess and evaluate the most appropriate way forward for premium publishers, based on their needs – not those of the buy-side.

 

These aren’t the only cookies in the news this month! The ad ban for high-fat, sugar, and salted snacks (HFSS) is set to land at the end of 2022 and has caused uproar among the advertising community.

 

While the update will inevitably impact publisher yield to an extent, the industry must take a pragmatic perspective. Much like the demise of third-party cookies, the decision has been made and will bring changes, but potential opportunities too in the way brands position themselves moving forwards. The ban states that brands can continue to advertise so long as they do not include identifiable HFSS products. The transition away from promoting products could propel a rise in brand-centric advertising, aimed at achieving more meaningful individual engagement. With increased focus on health and ethics, we may see ads framed around the societal, environmental, and global causes that truly matter to today’s consumers. In fact, consumers have been asking for this for a while – in 2019, 42% said that brands’ support of environmental, social, or political causes is becoming more or much more important to their purchasing decisions – so brands must step up to the plate or risk coming under intense scrutiny.

 

Living up to high trust expectations

Speaking of unexpected outcomes, COVID-19 upheaval has also had its own surprisingly positive effects for publishers. Amid accelerated demand for reliable online information, audiences have gained renewed appreciation for responsible and well-known publications that create quality content — a shift underscored by Reuters research revealing trust in the news has risen by 6% through the pandemic, with strong confidence among nearly half of consumers; the highest level since 2018. With this privilege, however, comes responsibility.

 

Premium publishers have cemented their status as beacons of trust and the go-to resource for balanced, fair, and factual journalism. Now, they must sustain this standard. This priority was top of the agenda during my recent visit to the National Liberal Club. As I mentioned in my last post, the purpose of the discussion was to share ideas around resolving challenges with trust and misleading content at large, and the event didn’t disappoint. It was promising to hear lively discussions about how we can better protect the next generation, tackle bullying and harassment, and stop misinformation, as a unified society.

 

What proved most interesting was the way different countries are coalescing around the mission to champion truth via an array of initiatives. As far as eradicating bad practices in publishing goes, consensus was unanimous on the requirement for deeper knowledge to help digital publishers self-regulate effectively, enhance accountability, and ensure brand safety. Generating content is one thing; comprehending the algorithms that rank it is another.

 

Providing spaces for shared thinking

As part of our commitment to fostering broader industry understanding, the AOP has hosted multiple Crunch events this year. Packed agendas have covered major topics, from ethical advertising practices and journalist integrity to increasing diversity in the media landscape, and that’s just the start. As we seek to encourage further investigation into core issues, look out for upcoming H2 dates for sessions about ethical spending and misinformation on the AOP events page.

 

Finally, you asked, and we listened. Brand new for 2021, we are excited to announce the launch of our Publishing Tech Talk event. Taking place in October, we will explore the technology solutions driving growth and expanding revenue opportunities in publishing. Following close collaboration with our technical advisory board on the bill, this is due to be one of my personal calendar highlights. Watch this space for details.

The principal job of publishing will always be providing exceptional experiences and high-quality content, but hitting this objective entails fulfilling other duties, such as tirelessly pursuing approaches that uphold the best interests of audiences, not just buyers.

 

What’s important, now more than ever, is to remain focused on the end goal and get the job done. We have the will, now let’s find the way, together.

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