Privacy-centric advertising practices

Darren Yuen, CEO of ad agency Initiative Malaysia

PETALING JAYA: Since the beginning of this year, Google has limited third-party cookies for its Chrome web browser users, marking a first step towards eventually abandoning the files that have raised privacy concerns for some time.

The testing period of the deprecation of third-party cookies will continue till the third quarter of this year, by which time it will be ramped up to restrict all users.

The changes are causing a seismic shift in the way digital marketers operate across the brands they work with.

Darren Yuen, CEO of ad agency Initiative Malaysia, shared his views with StarBiz on how limiting third-party cookies would affect the way agencies and marketers work moving forward.

StarBiz: What are cookies and how have they been used in digital advertising?

Yuen: Cookies are small files which are used to target advertising by tracking web navigation and have recently been subject to greater regulation globally.

These text files gather data about users’ browsing activity, identify computers that are connected to a computer network and specifically are used to identify and track specific users.

First-party cookies collect information activities on a particular site to improve the user experience. These are website-specific and once you click off the site, first-party cookies stop tracking you.

Third-party cookies on the other hand, work by embedding a persistent file on individual computers, working across the Internet to collect information about overall browsing habits.

Unlike first-party cookies, third-party cookies are generated externally by digital advertising agencies.

When users visit a site, the cookies track the site activity and save data about the browsing session, such as the sites visited and how much time is spent on certain pages, etc.

This data is sent back to the third party who created the cookie and is used to build out individual and group audience profiles.

Why should cookies be restricted?

Privacy concerns around the world have been the main push behind the cookie’s demise.

Previously, users had no control over when companies tracked them with cookies, but key regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation that mandates that websites must ask for consent before using cookies on users in the European Union and the European Economic Area have set a precedent worldwide, improving the quality of data collected.

How will the loss of third-party cookies impact the advertising industry and its implications for advertisers?

Historically, most advertisers have relied on third-party data to inform ad campaigns. The loss of these will signify a loss of detailed targeting capabilities and decreased capabilities to measure ad performance accurately.

While the death of the cookie will dramatically change the digital marketing landscape for good, new technologies are arising to replace third-party cookies or improve first-party cookies.

As such, there will now be an increased reliance on first-party data, contextual targeting (a technique where ads are placed based on the content of a particular web page) and third party alternatives to the cookie like The Trade Desk UID or Universal ID – a holistic targeting and measurement system that’s more privacy-conscious.

At this point, are advertisers in Malaysia prepared?

Some brands have begun investing in tech infrastructure to start collecting their own first party cookies and other data sources.

Brands are also starting to invest in alternative solutions like contextual targeting or implementing ways to map customer relationship management data directly to platforms for improved measurement.

However, there is a high cost of entry to improve these ad tech capabilities and advertisers are generally wary of newer capabilities.

Advertisers also have concerns around these changes.

For instance, there are uncertainties and a lack of understanding around new alternative solutions such as the increased use of UIDs, which is a privacy-focused, unencrypted identifier created from a user’s email address or phone number.

There are also concerns around the potential decrease in measuring campaign effectiveness and how brands can maintain personalised digital experiences without detailed interest and behaviour targeting.

What are some key steps to get advertisers prepared?

The most important thing is for advertisers to re-examine their existing digital marketing strategy to see ways in which reliance on third-party cookies can be eliminated.

For instance, advertisers need to allocate resources to collect and manage first-party data effectively.

On an immediate basis, it will be useful to also start testing alternative targeting approaches across current campaigns by partnering with ad tech firms to create inventive solutions based on the UIDs.

Initiative Malaysia has also developed a unique assessment approach for the brands we work with, through an Emerging Tech Assessment.

This helps assess a brand’s digital activity’s readiness to these changes by categorising it into high, medium and low-risk buckets.

From here, we help plot a roadmap over the coming months to mitigate any potential risk areas and look at technologies available that could supersede existing performance.

How will advertisers be impacted if they do not prepare themselves for this development?

It is imperative that brands make swift preparation for these changes as there will be serious repercussions in the coming year, with wastage of advertising budgets on less effective campaigns or possibly delivering ads that are irrelevant.Brands will also face difficulties in reaching and engaging with their high value target audiences and in the long run, lose competitiveness in the digital space. This shift towards more privacy-centric advertising practices is here to stay and brands need to hasten efforts to gain an edge over their competition.

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