CafeMedia and Preparing For The End of Cookies: An Interview With Paul Bannister

by Kathleen Booth, on May 13, 2021 9:00:00 AM

Third party cookies have been used as a cornerstone of ad ops strategies and online behavioral advertising for years, allowing advertisers to target users based on previously expressed interests online.

But recently, browsers have started to block third party cookies in the interest of creating a more secure experience for their users.

The Long, Slow End of Third Party Cookies

In 2017, Safari introduced the Intelligent Tracking Prevention which eventually blocked all third-party tracking with its 2.3 update in 2019. Firefox followed suit shortly after with its own Enhanced Tracking Protection. 

But because neither provided an alternative for advertisers to target end users, publishers’ CPMs and RPMs plummeted. 

Google Chrome, the most popular web browser (making up more than 60% of the market), is the most recent browser to announce it will be blocking all third-party cookies by 2022, ringing a major warning bell to online publishers.

In preparation for this update, Google has been working on its Privacy Sandbox in order to find a way to reconcile cross-site tracking with user privacy, although it is not yet clear how they plan to accomplish that.

Last week, we sat down with Paul Bannister, Chief Strategy Officer at CafeMedia, to talk about how CafeMedia is preparing for the changing advertising landscape with a unique four pillar approach. 

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CafeMedia’s Four Pillars

The team at CafeMedia is preparing for the end of third party cookies via four different avenues. Here’s what Bannister had to say about them.

1. Industry Advocacy

In the preparation for Google’s eventual departure from third party cookies, Bannister said, CafeMedia has been working closely with organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), IAB tech Lab (of which Bannister is a board member), Prebid, PRAM, and others that are starting to define the ways things are going work in the future. 

“Part of that is to understand what those changes are going to be,” Bannister shared, “ And part of that is to influence what those changes are going to be.”

In fact, the Google team is using the W3C as a forum to receive feedback from industry leaders while it works on its Privacy Sandbox - a list of over two dozen proposals aimed at rebuilding online advertising with a focus on preserving user privacy.

“Myself and our team spend a lot of time in the W3C discussions talking with the Chrome engineers,” Bannister said,  “And that helps us to understand what's going on and to push things in a good direction.”

By injecting themselves into the conversation, CafeMedia is able to stay updated with the latest news coming out of Google, while also advocating for changes that will support their online publishers.

2. Email-Based Identity

“We’re not just waiting to adopt what Chrome decides with the Privacy Sandbox”, Bannister said, referencing CafeMedia’s plan to build a new targeting infrastructure around captured user emails that will emulate third-party cookies. 

Because publishers are already capturing emails through things like newsletter signups, commenting, logins, etc, CafeMedia has started to take those captured emails and hash them - or use an algorithm to convert the email into a unique identifier that cannot be reversed engineered - then securely share the identifiers with their dozens of partners.

This way, when a user types an email address on one site and then types the same email address on another site, if the hashed email addresses match, the system knows it’s the same user without revealing their personal information.

And voila, you have an emulated secure cookie solution.

Also, by capturing identity primarily through email newsletters, Bannister said CafeMedia is creating a new emphasis that will “help our publishers build deeper relationships with their audiences” while also developing a database that will help them target audiences in the post-cookie world.

3. Data

Now that third-party cookies are on the way out, CafeMedia is expecting a resurgence in contextual advertising (advertising based on a page’s content) while behavioral advertising (advertising based on the actions a user takes on a website) takes the time to rebuild itself.

Because of this, CafeMedia’s third pillar is to focus on investing in collecting more effective first party data and growing the abilities of its AI powered data system dubbed “Marmalade”.

This Watson-powered data system is able to target ads not only by the content found on the page, but also through related content, broadening the scope of effective contextual advertising. 

“Building those systems,” Bannister shared, “makes it so we can provide more targeting information for advertisers ourselves, and obviously identity and data are very tied to each other.”

With both those innovations in hand, CafeMedia has set itself up to develop its own online advertising structure that no longer relies on browser data from companies like Google, Microsoft, or Apple.

This way, when these companies decide to shake up their policies, advertisers at CafeMedia will still have a reliable and effective way to target users.

4. Sales

Lastly, because the loss of third party cookies is likely to make programmatic advertising less effective, Bannister and his team are expecting a drop in programmatic and a rebirth in direct sales.

In preparation for that change, they are growing their sales team significantly.

“We want our sales team to be staffed up and have great capabilities,” Bannister said, “and to be there to work with advertisers in a deeper way as we go forward.”

Bannister believes their growing identity and data infrastructure will be able to overcome the capabilities that disappear with third-party cookies. But in order to execute this new, more hands on approach, CafeMedia needs a robust sales team in order to work with publishers directly.

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Wrapping Up

As the age of third party cookies comes to an end, advertisers must find new ways to effectively target users. 

In the past, browsers have failed to provide publishers with an alternative, and with no fall back, many publishers felt the blow to their revenue.

Chrome’s move away from third-party cookies is a major warning siren for publishers, and while they are working on an alternative, waiting to play by their rules may not be the best bet for publishers that want to remain competitive, especially when they could change the rules again at any point.

Bannister and CafeMedia have set out to future proof their advertising system by developing their own, one that will be able to innovate and grow as the years go on.


Topics:AdOps Strategy

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