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Cookiepocalypse Now? Not Necessarily for TV Advertisers

Phil Sandler
Phil Sandler  |  SVP, Marketing and Growth
Updated: Nov. 08, 2021
Published: Sep. 29, 2021

Cookies are causing more tummy aches than ever before. Ever since Google announced its intention to make third-party cookies obsolete on its Chrome browsers by 2023 (delayed from the originally announced date of 2022), digital publishers and advertisers have been struggling to adjust their data strategies to find new solutions that address consumer privacy concerns while still collecting data that helps target ads to the right audiences.

Apple (which began blocking third-party cookies in 2017, followed by Microsoft and Mozilla) has also ratcheted up the pressure on brands and marketers with its own changes, such as a the introduction of a pop-up window on iPhones asking users for their permission to be tracked by different apps, which is further shaking up the digital ads landscape.

Consumers, meanwhile, want better privacy and greater transparency on their data use, but are also still interested in more personalized content and offers.

So how can brands and their agencies continue to ensure they’re able to reach the right customers, at the right time, with the right content? And what does this mean for linear and connected TV advertisers?

A FLoC of Confusion

For the industry at large, unfortunately, there’s currently no silver bullet. The holy grail would be one big monolithic system for universal identification that all parties can agree on – but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

For pure-play digital advertisers, the crumbling cookie is obviously a paramount concern. Since 1994, third-party cookies were indispensable in allowing marketers to track a web visitor's online behaviors, including frequently visited websites and online buying patterns. Online advertisers relied on third-party cookies for over 30 years to gain insights into their audience and refine their targeting. With this goldmine of data, they built robust visitor profiles and created retargeting lists to send ads to a site’s past visitors or people with similar web profiles.

If digital advertisers cannot target individual users with third-party cookies, they’ll have to pay closer attention to the first-party data and a logged-in audience. Here’s why it can get challenging; the modern consumer may be on their phone and/or their desktop browser while watching TV at the same time. Trying to map a consumer journey as people switch from device to device is extremely tricky, as is recognizing anonymous users in real-time.

Google’s proposal to help brands, agencies and publishers solve for this disruption is the Federated Learning of Cohorts or FLoC. A FLoC cohort is a large number of people grouped by the browser based on browsing history. The browser uses algorithms to create a cohort of thousands of people based on similar sites they’ve visited. The algorithms might be based on the URLs of the visited sites, on the content of those pages, or other factors. The central idea is that these input features to the algorithm, including the web history, are kept local on the browser and are not uploaded elsewhere.

As The New York Times put it: If you visit websites related to tennis and dogs, you may be placed into a cohort of people who share those interests. As soon as a website loads, it scans the browser for an identification code to see what group you belong to. The website then can decide what types of ads to show your group.

But the FLoC concept has faced headwinds from privacy advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as some advertisers, all of which may have contributed to pushing the cookie-less Chrome date back by a year.

Solutions That Put Consumers First

Ultimately, advertisers, publishers and technology platforms must find a way to truly put the power in the consumer’s hand, giving them consent and transparency while simultaneously finding a way to make advertising relevant to the end viewer. Some steps that brands and their advertising partners could take are:

  • Collecting as much first-party data as you possibly can so can so you can own the conversation with your end user within your brand or across your umbrella of brands.
  • Providing a great value exchange to get the permission to target and provide relevant content to your end user.
  • And the old school one we’ve been doing since the beginning of marketing: pure contextual advertising, where you’re putting your message where you assume that the content is attracting a certain audience. I use the word assume very pointedly here – this not finding your strategic audience; it’s making some assumptions based on the content that they’re consuming.

Of course, first-party data with publishers needs to be scaled and linked to a brand’s own data on an individual. To do that effectively, you need a media buying and planning partner – a relationship that’s crucial to the future of advertising.

Simulmedia can be your ally in targeting audiences specific to your brand and products. Our cross-channel media-buying platform leverages TV’s massive reach and the power of data to help brands, networks, and agencies find the most relevant audiences that will take notice, tune-in, and transact.

An Opportunity for TV

With the deprecation of third-party cookies comes a renewed opportunity for brand advertisers to cut bait and move their digital dollars to cross-channel TV. With no winning alternative in sight that will definitively project individual privacy while still allowing brands to tailor and measure their advertising effectively, we’d argue that digital is already moving in the direction of where TV and demand-side platforms like Simulmedia already are.

In our world – the TV world – we’re not dependent on the cookies to find strategic audiences based on their interests. One might even say we’ve already been doing something similar to “cohorting” for a while. After all, we use our clients’ first-party data, which we protect, as well as third-party empaneled data to paint a picture of who’s most likely to convert, where they are interested, what does their behavior look like – as much data as we can enrich onto the customer profiles – and then we find as many folks as possible that look like that on national linear and CTV.

Contrast this with the traditional, blunt, broad, fluffy sex/age demographic-based approach that has hampered media and marketing professionals for decades. Sure, you can start with a demo – say, males 35-54 – but you can’t stop there because you have to assume (there’s that word again) way too much if you don’t add data to paint a better picture of who they are and what they’re specifically interested in. (For example, I might fall into a male 34-54 cohort and you might want to sell me your shampoo but, for obvious reasons, I don’t use shampoo so you’re wasting your time, energy and money targeting me as part of some big broad demo. Find out what kind of haircare products I use and then talk to me about that.)

Cohorting is far better than demographic targeting but it’s still taking what you know about a smaller group and applying it to a larger group. There’s some probabilistic fuzziness in doing that. But then again, as the saying goes: all models are wrong, but some are useful. Some can make your marketing far more relevant, far more responsive and far more effective, and that’s what we all have to strive for.

We have to make the most use out of every marketing dollar we spend on behalf of ourselves or our clients, and with the same amount of focus and we have to make that relevant to the end user and put them in control. That’s the Simulmedia model.

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This article was adapted from a panel discussion at the Cynopsis That Big TV Conference on September 22, 2021.