Unintended Consequences in Advertising | Opinion

The ability to target an individual with advertising is now limited by two things: The decline of the third party cookie and privacy rights. So what's a publisher to do?

If there's one thing that has moved relentlessly forward since the advent of digital advertising, it's the ability to target individuals and audiences. Unfortunately, that ability has been on the decline over the past few years, unless you are working on large platforms like Google and Facebook.

You might ask why. It's because the lifespan of the third party cookie is tied with that of a fruit fly—and it's getting shorter.

Here is some proof. We recently ran a brand lift study that relied on cookies. The results were so skewed that in some instances audiences were more aware of an ad they (supposedly) hadn't seen than an ad they had. How can audiences get so mixed up? It becomes impossible to reliably track people across websites unless you know who they are first. The idea of anonymously targeting people is not simply dying. It is dead.

The only reliable method of targeting people today is to have their name, email, and other personal information about their identity. You must also have your customer's consent to use it. Next, you can then take this information to the partner you want to work with and explicitly target your audience on their product. This works well for Google, Facebook and Amazon. But what can you do if you are a humble publisher?

The only solution for publishers is to gather login information. Or, more explicitly, not allow the audience to visit a site unless they are logged in. As they log in, publishers will ask for the audience member for consent to share their information for advertising purposes. Large publishers like the New York Times have already done this (and others of us are rolling out plans). But as a consumer, you should expect a day quite soon when it is impossible to visit any website of merit without logging in. And if you pay attention, most new websites ask you to do this already.

The irony is that the demise of the third party cookie is supposed to protect your privacy. The solution is an internet where you are logged in 99 percent of the time and with that login, you are explicitly waiving a right to privacy. Just add this to the wonderful list we call unintended consequences.

Audience targeting is dead. Long live audience targeting.

Computer Cookies
Audience targeting is dead. Long live audience targeting. Lewis Mulatero / Getty Images