Advertising Guest Columns
4 mins read

Advertising’s next top model: Exploring the cookie alternatives

Technology has always been a cat and mouse game, with authorities constantly chasing to regulate the latest innovations. The to-and-fro in the digital ad space is reaching a fever pitch, with advertisers, publishers, regulators, and big tech firms all trying to create a solution for the ever-tightening privacy legislation that pleases all parties.

While this will have been a consideration for some time, publishers must immediately start to take action on how they manage customer data. Especially after the Belgian Data Protection Authority’s recent ruling that The IAB Europe’s Transparency and Consent Framework (TCF) – “the industry solution for conveying consent data” – was non-compliant with the provisions of GDPR; this is only the latest in a string of regulatory twists.

On top of this, Google’s decision to phase out cookies has left advertisers searching for a suitable replacement identifier solution. Additionally, the European Publishers Council (EPC) filed an antitrust complaint against Google with the European Commission (EC), claiming the company favours its own online display advertising technology services. Where does this leave publishers? Is the industry too hung up on identity solutions? Or is there another way?

Obstacles Publishers Are Facing 

The IAB ruling has far-reaching consequences. Its Transparency & Consent Framework (TCF) is used by around 80% of sites on the European internet, and the Belgian Data Protection Authority’s (DPA) declaration that “The approach taken so far does not meet the conditions of transparency and fairness required by the GDPR” could lead to thousands of advertisers having to destroy data collected via the framework. Everyone across the ecosystem could be affected; even the online advertising businesses of Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are expected to take a hit. With the Belgian DPA giving the IAB six months to make the TCF compliant, the race is on to find a solution.

But ever since Google announced the demise of the cookie, the race has been on to find a solution. There have currently been 80 solutions proposed for publishers and advertisers to choose from, but none stand out as the silver bullet answer. Some, such as fingerprinting or IDs, are unlikely to be viable in the long term, while others lack the ability to scale. Google’s latest offering, Topics, has been criticised for its limited ability to target effectively, causing yet more uncertainty.

The Path Less Travelled

A third solution is available to publishers, and one that doesn’t rely on identifiers at all. Though both cookie and non-cookie IDs are not disappearing in the short term, bolstering these with alternative solutions can help keep publishers privacy-compliant when new legislation appears.

The trove of proprietary signals that publishers can access is a powerful tool in moving past the cookie. Publishers can track how users interact with ads on a granular level, picking up on swipes, scrolls, expands, touches, tilts, and other signals. These privacy-compliant signals offer a valuable method for finding impressions, which is focused on ad inventory, not audiences – and when AI-driven contextual targeting is added to the mix, it becomes truly powerful.

Contextual targeting has become increasingly valuable for a few years now, but the TCF ruling puts its power in sharper focus. Technological strides have meant that contextually optimised machine learning solutions can gather and analyse customer signals, creating a large data set and analysing it for consumer behaviour patterns; this takes contextual beyond keywords and looks at interactions and attention as a proxy to the audience demo and behaviours. With this data, these solutions can optimise ads alongside KPIs, suggesting placement, frequency, creative, and other campaign dimensions.

By its very nature, contextual advertising is privacy compliant, focusing on the value of ad inventory and not the origin of the audience.

Trial and Error

There are currently numerous solutions being floated as replacements for the loss of cookies – contextual targeting is just one of many. While the temptation may be to invest in the solution that looks most promising, publishers need to use this time wisely to test and not get tied down to one solution.

As the IAB decision has shown, the situation is in constant flux. A lot will happen between now and Google’s deadline of 2023 – staying agile and evaluating all options will put publishers in the best position to minimise losses.

Stephen Cutbill, UK General Manager, Yieldmo

It is crucial to be asking questions and implementing a ‘test-and-learn’ approach that measures up against KPIs, trying out a range of solutions to find the best combination; publishers should not get locked into a single solution too early because more change is coming. While it is likely that identifiers, both cookie and non-cookie, will play a part for publishers and advertisers going forward, looking beyond these and towards targeting audience performance will not only maximise ad performance but keep data privacy compliant. 

Stephen Cutbill
UK General Manager, Yieldmo

Yieldmo is an advertising technology company that operates a smart exchange that differentiates and enhances the value of ad inventory for buyers and sellers. As a leader in contextual analytics, real-time technology, and digital formats, we create, measure, model, and optimize campaigns for unmatched scale and performance. By understanding how each unique impression behaves and looking for patterns and performance in real-time, we can drive real performance gains without relying on audience data. Visit to learn more.