Why Cookie Blocking Is a Good Thing

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The digital ad industry has our collective knickers in a knot over the news that the next version of Safari will default to tossing cookies when they get stale. Chrome will soon follow suit with a built-in ad blocker, according to reports.

You can literally hear the heads exploding, can't you?

This means marketers will now have one day to retarget someone around the web who has been cookied on a publisher's website by a third-party ad tech company. After 24 hours, the cookie goes "Poof!"

Reluctant heroes are now banding together like "The Defenders" on Netflix to save the day -- except they are using sternly worded, slightly disingenuous letters instead of kung-fu and super muscles. The 4As and the ANA have temporarily loosened their grips on another's throats, and joined with a host of other industry groups to write that this move "is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love."

I'll concede that this is going to adversely impact many providers of "ad-supported online content and services," but "bad for consumer choice?" Give me a break.

No consumer consciously chooses for ad tech companies to drop cookies on them and sell their "behavior" to advertisers. No one wakes up and says to their wife, "Gee, honey, I really hope someone out there anonymously tracked me buying that sweater online last night and sells my information to the highest bidder!"

If they did, 75 million Americans -- including 41% of all millennials -- wouldn't have gone out of their way to install ad blockers by 2017.

Cookie blocking will have revenue implications on people throughout the ecosystem. That is unfortunate. Brands make money with direct response ads driven by third-party cookies; publishers make money allowing third parties to put these tags on their sites; and of course, third-party ad tech vendors themselves make money selling their wares.

But roosters do come home to roost.

A year ago in this space, I wrote "Ad Tech Is the Worst Thing That Ever Happened to Advertising."

I argued that while ad tech represents a fundamentally valuable set of tools to deliver more relevant messages to consumers and eliminate waste, a lawless, Wild West environment has emerged. The result has been consumer backlash and a loss of brand trust that has placed the entire advertising industry in crisis.

This is why we have Marc Pritchard, Procter & Gamble Co.'s chief brand officer, onstage at Cannes, scolding the digital industry to cut the crap and grow up.

In my earlier article, I predicted that consumers will force change upon the industry because the industry hasn't been able to police itself. That has now begun to come to pass.

So, maybe, instead of spending their time writing heavy-handed letters about heavy-handed approaches, our industry orgs should ask themselves why consumers are asking for this, and develop industry standards based on what they actually care about.

We all understand that measures like ad blocking and cookie blocking may have a negative impact on the direct-response efforts of some of our clients. But when I sit down with with a CMO, we don't talk about banner ad performance. We talk about helping her brand grow. And the best way I know for a client's brand to grow is to advocate that their customers' voices be heard.

Those customers are talking right now. Can you hear what they're saying?

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