Not long after joining Ozone in 2019, I found myself surrounded by talk of the deprecation of the third-party cookie and its impact on the world of digital advertising. As a relative newbie to the sector, I found myself a little confused with various companies rushing many different replacement solutions to market – every one claiming to be the saviour of digital advertising.
Fast forward to 2023, and the third-party cookie is still going (semi-) strong. Yet that’s all set to change next year, as Google’s Chrome joins Safari and Firefox in removing the user tracking capabilities of the third-party cookie within the browser.
All change for the digital marketer
The impact of Google’s changes will be seismic, and touch every part of the digital advertising process; from targeting, to measurement, to attribution. It will drive change in a way not seen since the introduction of GDPR – but will make that shift seem relatively inconsequential in comparison.
So where does this leave today’s marketer? What we are hearing is that the more sophisticated of them are ready, but also frustrated by the prolonged death of the third-party cookie. On the other hand there are other brands who are tired of hearing about it, yet remain daunted as they don’t fully comprehend the implications for their business. For those in the dark, we believe there are three core components that will drive future success in digital advertising, and broadly speaking these align around environments, measurement and new technologies.
1. Context – and content – will remain king
I’ve been in this industry long enough to have seen this phrase come and go, but in digital it has proven to be true time and time again. Numerous studies – from the likes of the IAB, Newsworks, GroupM and Lumen – have demonstrated the power of reader-first, editorially-governed websites in capturing higher levels of attention than the rest of the web.
It’s these premium publisher websites where marketers expect their online spend to be deployed. At Ozone we call this the premium web, those online places where consumers come to be informed and entertained. This highly-engaged subset of the web contrasts distinctly from the more task-based and made-for-advertising domains that fill the long-tail of the internet. It was only this summer that the US-based Association of National Advertisers called the overuse of made-for-advertising sites in programmatic advertising as “deeply concerning” due to the challenges of fraud, viewability and brand safety they present for brands.
Not only do editorially-led publishers – those in the premium web – provide the antithesis to these advertising challenges, but they also provide contextually rich spaces for brands to appear. These campaigns are fuelled by rich, first-party data points that can only be captured as a result of the trusted relationships built between publishers and their readers. It’s why we believe the premium web should exist as a channel distinct from the rest of the internet – both can certainly form part of the marketers’ toolkit, yet we are guilty of doing a disservice to both by lumping them together.
2. We’ll get better at measuring impact
As the digital advertising ecosystem matures, so too must the measures through which we gauge success. Baseline metrics such as CTRs or viewability have served the industry well, but there is a real need to add further depth to measurement capability.
Over the past few years the measurement of attention has become an area of focus for the industry. More ad attention equals more effective campaigns – no surprise there! Yet the evolution of these qualitative measures – just like brand-led scores for awareness, consideration, preference or purchase intent – provide a really useful layer of additional insight beyond those foundational metrics.
However, the holy grail of measurement will be when success is defined by ad effects on a brand’s business outcomes; real-world measures that by definition are distinct for each advertiser. Whether it’s customer acquisition, sales conversions or ROI, a more holistic measurement approach is key to long-term success. At Ozone, we’re pretty sure the capacity to predict these outcomes – and model the inputs required to deliver them – will be realised in the near term through the evolving AI, machine-learning world.
3. Generative AI will transform advertising and media planning
It’s hard to believe it’s been less than a year since ChatGPT launched, bringing with it a realisation of how generative AI can impact us in our day-to-day lives. Who hasn’t asked the platform a work question and been pleasantly surprised with the relative accuracy of the results?
‘Large language models’ – also known as LLMs – and accompanying data science capabilities are already having an impact within the digital advertising sector. We expect this to accelerate once Chrome finally deprecates the third-party cookie, causing two things to happen simultaneously. On one hand we’ll have less data available to feed the adtech attribution models that have driven so much growth within digital advertising, while on the other, mixed media modelling – powered by the aforementioned LLMs and data science – will become really powerful and bring investment in online advertising back into the same planning world as other media channels.
While many global brands and agency holding groups will already have this wider channel-planning capability, we expect this wave of generative AI to bring that to an even wider market.
Change is inevitable, growth is optional
At Ozone, we believe these changes within the digital advertising industry can only help increase brand investment into the premium web. This is where marketers expect their budgets to be deployed and where they can engage real consumers in brand-safe environments. More investment flowing into editorially-led content will create a flywheel impact that gives your ads even more reader engagement. In turn, this builds a brighter future for the digital advertising ecosystem; one where brands and publishers both thrive, and where consumers get the online experience they truly value.
Bryan Scott is marketing communications director at Ozone.