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Tech at Work: How the End of Cookies Will Transform Digital Marketing

TOM STACKPOLE: Google is planning to phase out third-party cookies sometime next year. These are little files that are stored on your browser as you go from website to website, and they help companies track your identity. So Juan, what’s your take on this big change?

JUAN MARTINEZ: If I were a digital marketer, I’d be panicking right now. But I don’t think consumers will care, they’re not going to stop seeing ads, but the ads will be less relevant. They won’t track you from one website to the other, but they’ll track you within the website that you’re in. So for the average person, this is not going to matter very much, but for the digital marketer, this is going to be a game-changer.

TOM STACKPOLE: Yeah, consumers may not be aware of this, but they’re the reason it’s happening. Let’s hear for a second from Hanne Tuomisto-Inch who works on privacy at Google. She was speaking to Chrome browser developers in a video about this change. She calls cookies identifiers here.

HANNE TUOMISTO-INCH: We have reached a clear turning point where the downsides of the identifiers outweigh the benefits. People are increasingly aware of how their data is used online and their expectations for privacy are growing.

TOM STACKPOLE: So for a long time, users have traded privacy in return for a free and open web that’s paid for by advertisers. Cookies track where you go on the web, they let advertisers serve up personalized ads wherever you go, and the personalization makes those ads more valuable. But now this is changing. Juan, how do you feel about that?

JUAN MARTINEZ: For me, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I don’t want to poo-poo anyone’s privacy concerns, but cookies have been around a while and none of us have really been tormented by anything but pictures of things that we’ve already bought several times. So I’m not sure where the hullabaloo is coming from, but I respect the people who know more about this who say it’s something that they want. I’m just not too concerned about it.

TOM STACKPOLE: I think maybe not surprisingly, I have a different take on the privacy question because I think I feel a little more uncomfortable with just the amount of information that’s out there. Targeted advertising has created all these incentives for how we use the internet and also the internet that is available for us to use. And that may or may not change with targeting going away, but the fact that the internet is really built as a big data factory now, I think has created sort of uncomfortable trade-offs that we’re making as users that we’re sort of getting more aware of.

JUAN MARTINEZ: For me, the question is, how are advertisers going to respond to this? How are they testing it? What are they learning? I don’t think it’s going to totally destroy the internet the way that some people are making this out to be. Not you Tom, but other people.

TOM STACKPOLE: Welcome to Tech At Work, a four-part special series of the HBR IdeaCast. I’m Tom Stackpole.

JUAN MARTINEZ: And I’m Juan Martinez. Every other Thursday we’ll bring you research, stories and advice about the technology that’s changing work and how to manage it.

TOM STACKPOLE: So this week we’re talking about the death of third-party cookies. If you’re a digital marketer, you’re going to hear how others in the industry are trying to adapt to this new paradigm.

JUAN MARTINEZ: And if you’re not a marketer, you’ll get a better understanding of how this huge technological transformation might reshape the open web as we know it.

TOM STACKPOLE: Later on, we’ll talk with an executive at a global ad agency to learn how she’s guiding her clients through this transition.

JAMIE SELTZER: Nobody knows what’s coming, so I think we all have to just accept that we’re all going to learn on the fly a little bit.

TOM STACKPOLE: But first, we’ll hear from a marketing professor who studies ad effectiveness and related privacy issues. He’ll break down the trade-offs of the new technologies that are already being tested to replace cookies. Garrett Johnson is an associate professor of marketing at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. And just a quick disclosure here at the top, Garrett is advising the UK Competition and Markets Authority on their review of Google’s Privacy Sandbox. The opinions he expresses in this conversation are his own, not those of the CMA. We spoke to him in late March.

So let’s start off with some basics. Could you just kind of explain what third-party cookies are? What are their value and how have they kind of shaped the web as we know it?

GARRETT JOHNSON: Yeah, so a cookie is just a text file that has a synonymous identifier, which allows the web to have a memory. So without cookies, if we put something in our carts online, we would go to the carts and the website wouldn’t remember what’s there. That would be like a first-party cookie. So a cookie that’s set by the website that you’re visiting. A third-party cookie is when another usually vendor that the website’s hired to do some work puts one of these identifiers on your computer and that allows the web to know who you are across websites. So advertisers can see who sees an ad and then subsequently purchases on their website. And more generally, it helps advertisers to target advertising based on a user’s interests inferred from browsing. So this is a fundamental technology to the web and it’s really important for monetizing content. I have some research with some co-authors looking at what happens to the price of advertising when users opt out of cookies and we show that advertising prices fall fifty-two percent. So put another way, with a cookie, you effectively double the revenue that’s coming from one of the advertisements. And so this pays for the free content and services that we enjoy on the web.

TOM STACKPOLE: So often when we talk about third-party cookies going away, that’s couched in the language of privacy. Users are going to get more privacy because this tool is going away, so they’re going to be tracked less as they ping-pong around the web. Why is this happening now? Where is the pressure coming from?

GARRETT JOHNSON: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of momentum from different places. I think in general, the bloom is sort of off the rose when it comes to big tech in society. Certainly we see that with privacy regulations, most importantly with the GDPR in Europe, really trying to clamp down on advertising technology.

TOM STACKPOLE: Can you just quickly define what the GDPR is?

GARRETT JOHNSON: Yeah, the GDPR, it stands for the General Data Protection Regulation, and this was started in May of 2018 and it provides comprehensive privacy or data protection reform for not only European residents and European companies, but all companies worldwide that are serving customers in Europe. And so when you have a lot of momentum for privacy, as a tech company, I think what you want to do is you want to show the world that you are trying to do something about this issue, in part because you want to preempt regulation or enforcement from the regulators and make sure that they are satisfied with the progress you’re making.

JUAN MARTINEZ: What have we learned from the people that have been dealing with this for the past six years? What’s the state of play there?

GARRETT JOHNSON: I mean, honestly, I think it really highlights this tension we have between wanting to live in a data-driven economy, but wanting privacy at the same time. So if you get rid of cookies, there’s basically four categories of advertising that takes its place. The first is contextual advertising, then cookie lists replacement IDs, then the walled gardens, and then privacy-centric advertising like Privacy Sandbox. So let’s kind of take each one of those in turn. So the first is contextual advertising, and that just means that a consumer is going to see a finance-related ad on a finance-related website.

Now the second thing is cookie list replacement IDs. So many people have probably noticed that when you go to a website now, often the websites ask you to log in. And that’s because effectively the industry is replacing the cookie ID with a synonymized version of your email address in order to be able to stitch who you are across websites. And if they can’t do that, then often the industry falls back on other signals that your browser is sending out like your IP address and characteristics of your browser that allow the industry to do what’s called fingerprinting, which just makes some best guess of who you are. And then the third thing is walled gardens. So this is companies like Facebook and Meta and Amazon that just have a lot of scale and ease of use and first-party data. And then the last thing is a total reinvention of how advertising works to be on a foundation of privacy-enhancing technologies. So we can talk about Privacy Sandbox, which is the most salient example of that.

TOM STACKPOLE: So the rollout for that has been shifting. We started to see some of that this year. So what is happening there and where is the timeline headed?

GARRETT JOHNSON: So for the Privacy Sandbox, there’s different technologies to help target advertising, to help measure advertising, to detect fraud in advertising. One thing that people need to realize is that Privacy Sandbox is not just this theoretical idea. This has been released in essentially all Chrome browsers since September. And Google got rid of cookies for 1% of users in January of this year, and that’s like tens of millions of users. But I think that as a whole, the industry has been hitting snooze on this problem. The loss of third-party cookies and the move towards privacy-centric advertising is a seismic shift in advertising. I think it is like the asteroid coming towards planet advertising. And so as a whole, the industry is probably under-prepared for these changes that are coming.

JUAN MARTINEZ: And is there any data comparing Privacy Sandbox to third-party cookies? How well do the Privacy Sandbox tools work? Will they replace cookies entirely, do you think? How is it going to play out?

GARRETT JOHNSON: It’s very early days. So I mentioned that Google removed cookies for 1% of users in January of 2024. And this is actually part of an experiment that Google is running in coordination with the British Regulator, the CMA, or Competition and Markets Authority. And what that experiment is trying to do is exactly establish how Privacy Sandbox performs. As a researcher myself, I’m working with different companies to measure how well this is performing. And so I’m working with one company that works with a lot of publishers to sell advertising. And so the experiment has three groups. The first group is just the status quo with third-party cookies. The second is cookie lists, so no cookies. And then the third group is no cookies, but Privacy Sandbox. And with that data, we can see how the revenue differences compare across these three groups. And what we see is that the cookie list group performs about 30% worse than the status quo group, and the Privacy Sandbox group performs about 28% worse than the status quo group. So that’s an additional benefit of roughly six percent. Now, this is as of mid-March. Certainly, if there’s people that are running websites out there in the audience, you may have just audibly gasped. I want to reassure you that this is very early days, and so as we see more companies enter into this space, we should see those numbers change in terms of publisher revenue.

TOM STACKPOLE: Yeah, I have to say that those numbers are… They don’t make me feel great about-

JUAN MARTINEZ: Getting rid of cookies was your idea, Tom.

TOM STACKPOLE: I wanted to talk about getting rid of cookies. It wasn’t my idea.

GARRETT JOHNSON: Oh, are you a cookie-hater or are you pro-cookie?

JUAN MARTINEZ: Yes, Tom is super privacy.

TOM STACKPOLE: I’m a privacy guy.

GARRETT JOHNSON: Ah, I see. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

TOM STACKPOLE: But now there are consequences and I hate that for me.

GARRETT JOHNSON: Well, I like that. I don’t often get to talk to people who are very far on the privacy part of this. So I’m an economist, so I think about trade-offs. And the trade-offs here make this a little bit more of a complicated issue.

TOM STACKPOLE: As long as we’re talking about trade-offs. I’m curious, there are all of these options that marketers are now looking at in terms of ways that they can navigate this kind of uncertain future, which are the contextual, the sign-in, the walled gardens. Can you kind of break down what some of the pros and cons of these various approaches are?

GARRETT JOHNSON: So from an advertiser perspective, if you go through kind of the four categories of advertising post-third-party cookie, the first is contextual advertising. And that again just means we show tennis ads to people that are on websites that are talking about tennis. The problem with that is that we spend a lot of our time on the internet entertaining ourselves and just doing work and generally spending time on websites that are not the most commercially relevant. And so I’m pretty bearish on contextual solutions alone because there’s a mismatch between commercial interest and how we’re spending our time. Then the next one is cookie list IDs. And so one form that this takes is email logins and using email addresses as an identifier in place of cookies. From an advertiser perspective, the challenge here is one of scale. For this to work, you need to be able to have the user log in on the website where the ad is shown and also log in on your own website where they’re making a purchase. And for a lot of websites, I think it’s going to be hard for them to provide a compelling reason for the user to log in. And this benefits large advertisers and large websites that have better relationships with their users for good and for bad, and also advertisers that already have large email data sets. So if you’re a CPG company selling Oreos, then this becomes a bit of a challenge for you, and maybe that’s why Oreos has launched these custom Oreo kind of online offerings to maybe collect some email addresses of Oreo super fans to help them in the world without cookies.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Can you tell the audience what multi-touch attribution is and why, without cookies, it’ll be really hard to measure?

GARRETT JOHNSON: Yeah, so one of the things that distinguishes digital advertising is the ability to measure when a user sees an ad across different contexts and when they subsequently take an action like purchasing. And so multi-touch attribution says, “Okay, now that a user’s purchased, if we go back and look at the 20 different ads in the 10 different advertising channels that they saw along that path to purchase, how should we give credit across those different marketing touch points?” But in order to create that data, you need to know who a user is across contexts, and that’s where a third-party cookie will help you. And Privacy Sandbox provides a solution for attribution called the Attribution Reporting API. What it says is that this sort of attribution data is very revealing of who a user is because we see exactly the timestamp of when they’re seeing an ad, and that they’re buying, let’s say a Led Zeppelin T-shirt for 34.99 at 6:48 on a Tuesday. That’s pretty indicative of who that user is. And so what the Attribution Reporting API does is it tries to provide a way to help advertisers measure the effectiveness of their advertising while protecting user privacy in three ways. The first is to add noise to the data so that it’s hard to be able to attribute any part of that data, that advertisers get back, to an individual user. Another is to coarsen the data that advertisers are getting back so that they’re seeing more limited information. And the final is to provide information after some delay. So instead of seeing, okay, somebody purchased this Led Zeppelin T-shirt in size XL for 34.99 after seeing an ad, now the API just writes back that a user saw an ad and then spent something between zero and a hundred dollars on a website. But this is a big adjustment for advertisers because I think the previous way of doing things, though not simple, was more of a kind of turnkey solution. But when you’re getting multiple signals that are delayed and that have noise added to them, I like to use this analogy of sailing. You’re kind of getting a lot of feedback, there’s a lot of levers that you can pull, and you have to be able to make those work in harmony to get you where you want to go as an advertiser. I don’t think a lot of advertisers are that far into understanding this to be able to succeed in that environment yet.

JUAN MARTINEZ: When you talk to digital marketers, are they freaking out about this? What are you hearing from them on the ground?

GARRETT JOHNSON: I mean, we’re talking like an incredible feat of technology that makes this industry exist in the first place and kind of rebuilding this plane while it’s flying to have the foundations of this technology be privacy-enhancing technologies instead. It does take some thinking and some learning to understand how these new tools work. So there’s an adjustment. I mean, part of the sacrifice here is complexity. You can have more privacy, but these technologies tend to be more complex, and so that makes it harder to explain to people in industry and also hard to explain to users, at the end of the day.

JUAN MARTINEZ: A lot of people suspect that the pie will be divided less equally. That the bigger get bigger and the small guys will be sort of fazed out of this. Do you think that that’s what’s going to happen, or will it just be the same as it is now except everybody’s earning less money?

GARRETT JOHNSON: Yeah, I think it’s hard to say. I’ve done research on the impacts of the GDPR. We went and looked at websites use of ad tech vendors before and after the GDPR, and we saw that websites kind of pulled back on the amount of advertisers and ad tech companies they worked with, at least in the short run. But there we saw that they were more likely to kick out the smaller vendors than they were the larger vendors. And so we showed that there was this increase in market concentration that coincided with the enforcement of the GDPR. And so there’s been a lot of research that has investigated the GDPR and that has investigated other settings showing that privacy changes tends to hurt competition, and this is partly why the British Competition and Markets Authority is investigating Google’s Privacy Sandbox.

JUAN MARTINEZ: If fifty-two percent of this revenue is lost, is there a way to regain that money or is it just gone now?

GARRETT JOHNSON: I think that’s the billion-dollar question, billions-of-dollar question for this industry. I think there’s some reasons to think that the market will adjust, and then there’s this notion that, oh, if advertising’s cheaper than we can buy twice as much. Well, the reasons why it’s going to be cheaper is that it’s not creating as much value and it’s harder to measure the effectiveness of that advertising. And so the worry is that we’re going to see a loss in revenue that goes to some of these other channels like connected TV and retail media advertising instead of the open web.

TOM STACKPOLE: One last question. What’s your best cookie joke?

GARRETT JOHNSON: Well, one of the agency trade presses is called AdExchanger, and so they’ve had a few cartoons with Cookie Monster being upset that we’re getting rid of cookies. And so, one of the more memorable ones is Cookie Monster sitting on a couch looking sad and the caption says, “C was for cookies.”

TOM STACKPOLE: Well, Garrett, thanks for joining us today. This has been great. Maybe I will rethink some of my anti-third-party cookie stances. We can change our minds here from time to time.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Now you want everything open source, right? Let’s all see what we got.

TOM STACKPOLE: Just give me a little time before I pick my new thing. But this is great, thank you so much for joining us.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Garrett, this has been great. I learned so much today.

GARRETT JOHNSON: This was super fun.

TOM STACKPOLE: That was Garrett Johnson. He’s an associate professor of marketing at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. Coming up after the break, an ad exec will tell us how she’s preparing for the end of cookies. Be right back.

Welcome back to Tech at Work. I’m Tom Stackpole.

JUAN MARTINEZ: And I’m Juan Martinez.

TOM STACKPOLE: Let’s shift now and focus on how digital marketers are actually preparing for the end of third-party cookies. Our guest is Jamie Seltzer, Global Executive Vice President at Havas Media Network. As the global head of Havas Media’s Data and Technology Consulting Group, she leads the agency’s data products and analytics strategy. And a big part of her job right now is helping clients adjust their strategies to move away from cookies. We taped this conversation with Jamie in early April and we started by talking about how big Jamie thinks this change will be for her industry.

JAMIE SELTZER: It is a massive change. I don’t want to understate how big of a change this is going to be, but I also think that it isn’t the of the world. I think we need to change. I think it’s important, as an industry, that we keep changing because of changes in technology, because of evolution of individuals, consumers wants and needs around privacy. And also, just to keep making the products better. Cookie sort of made us lazy. We got really used to all of the information, all of the things it could do, and that notion that we could find an in-market consumer wherever they are. Without a third-party cookie, it forces us to step back and think about what are the best media experiences for our consumers that help not just sell a product, but help build loyalty and brand love and the things that we sort of forgot about when we went straight for performance and kind of forgot about brand a little bit. So it’s going to be a seismic shift, but it’s also a necessary one that I think we need to work our way through.

JUAN MARTINEZ: And the shift has already started. I mean, in Europe the cookies have been regulated since 2016. Apple and Firefox are blocking them. What have you been learning and how do you target the ads and how do you measure the ads now given where we are with the new technology and the new rules?

JAMIE SELTZER: Yeah, I think the thing to remember in a lot of ways is that cookies were never perfect. They were never designed to do the things that they do now. They were designed to help reduce friction and reduce consumer challenges. But we took it farther than it was designed for. And there’s a significant portion of our media that is already cookie-less. I mean, I think especially some of our direct buys are 85% cookie-less at this point. I don’t think there is a client out there who is one hundred percent cookied. There also probably isn’t anyone out there who is entirely cookie-less yet.

TOM STACKPOLE: I want to jump on something that you mentioned there because I found it really surprising when you said some clients are eighty percent cookie-less. Was that a shift that started right in 2016? Or how quickly had the clients advance to that point?

JAMIE SELTZER: It was slow at first. It hasn’t been a steady, gradual thing. I think there was some panic at the beginning and then from there it slowed down a little bit, partly because Google has postponed the deprecation of third-party cookies a few times. And that slowed down the preparation. It slowed down the testing, and then now, in the last I would say 18 months, things have really picked back up. We have some clients, especially some of our European clients like Hyundai and Kia, who have made great progress in working with us and working with their teams to come up with a plan to test different strategies, to make sure that what they’re doing will work in the future. Or at the very least, we have baselines to measure against so that when we try new things, we can assess success.

TOM STACKPOLE: Let’s talk a little bit about the tools that you’re talking about. What do you know right now about Google’s new Privacy Sandbox? Have you gotten to use it? What is the sort of best case scenario for where it fits in the strategy?

JAMIE SELTZER: Up until recently, it’s been a bit of an unknown for us. We’ve tested via our partners, our publisher partners, because up until recently, the only people who had access to it were publishers, were media publishers. So we are really excited to get our hands on that. I know our teams are itching to be able to play around. I’ll say that testing other cookie-less solutions, non-Google solutions, whether that’s non-cookie contextual, whether that’s identity partners, whatever that might be. We’ve seen some decent results. We’ve actually seen some results that come in on par with cookie results. We’ve seen some that are performing even better. I think caveat of that is that it’s been at a much smaller scale. I think we are cautiously optimistic in the results from Privacy Sandbox because so much time and energy has been put into it, but I also think that it’s not going to be a hit out of the gate. It’s not going to be something that we are running at a hundred percent the minute that it launches. I think there’s going to be a learning curve on everyone’s side. I think there’s going to also have to be a calibration period where we calibrate against what our previous results were. And then the last part is, I think we have to rethink how we define and measure success. I mean, right now we’ve been able to measure, over the last few years, success theoretically through things like multi-touch attribution, knowing that every touch point, everything that I see on my journey to buy that pair of shoes that I bought yesterday is tracked and can be measured, and we can wait each of those touch points in terms of what we believe their importance to be. And that isn’t going to be possible anymore. I’m still going to buy that pair of shoes, but we’re not going to be able to attribute it along the way. And therefore, we have to reset our expectations for measurement. It may not be clicks and reach and things like that. It likely will be things that go more towards what is driving incremental revenue or incremental sales and just sort of more advanced, more scientific and modeled versions of measurement.

JUAN MARTINEZ: You touched on this a little bit before, but in order to enter that new reality, what are some of the tools, the technology tools, that you’re using to sort of measure what you’re going to be doing in six months or a year?

JAMIE SELTZER: It’s funny, we talked years and years ago about, it was sort of like when the cookie got big and programmatic got big and social, it really exploded. And we talked all about multi-touch attribution, and multi-touch attribution meant that market mix modeling was over. It always had a bit of a high price tag. So clients could say, “Oh, well, we have multi-touch attribution now, we don’t need to do MMM.” And ultimately that’s what we’re going back to right now. That’s what Privacy Sandbox is. But the evolution of technology, machine learning, our ability to compute significant amounts of data faster, AI, which is everybody’s buzzword, but it’s been part of analytics and machine learning forever. Those are the kinds of things that have evolved to allow us to do things like market mix modeling better, more quickly, more effectively.

TOM STACKPOLE: Tell me a little bit about how it has changed from sort of the old way it was doing it to what we’re able to do with kind of new tools.

JAMIE SELTZER: So market mix modeling in general is a way to measure the success of any sort of media and advertising on a business goal, usually something like sales of a product. And it works in aggregate. So it’s business results over a period of time and what was the media that was running, what were the marketing activities that were running? And ultimately, you model out the contribution or the impact that each of those has on the business goals. We then use that to adjust our marketing activities. While there’s some challenges with aggregation and with data aggregation, ultimately, it also allows us to see a little bit of the bigger picture in terms of common trends, themes, and it allows us to sort of think a little bit differently about consumers and consumer behavior. And many, many, many of our clients and others that I’ve worked with, have continued to use market mix modeling throughout the years. But it has, as you said, evolved. There is greater computing power, there is greater access to sales data from different industries that didn’t have it before. So especially for industries where a brand or an advertiser, they don’t sell directly to me. So package goods doesn’t sell directly to me, they sell through a retailer. So my favorite, my former client, Colgate-Palmolive, who I adore, I don’t buy toothpaste from them, I buy toothpaste from the CVS, which is down the street from my house. Now, that makes it very challenging for a brand, a CPG brand, to know what I’m purchasing and who their consumers are because they don’t have as much of a direct relationship. So new access to types of data like that through other panels, through other sources, they allow us to be able to look at brands in different ways, different kinds of brands.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Now, I want you to look into your crystal ball for this question, okay. Other than Google and all of your clients, who are going to be the big winners in a post-cookie world? And obviously on the other side, who are going to be the big losers? This is your chance to predict the world without third-party cookies.

JAMIE SELTZER: I mean, besides Google and Meta, those guys who kind of win in most situations, I think anyone who has started preparing for this a few months ago, couple, more than a few months ago, will probably be the winners. There’s been some people who are predicting that Google will never deprecate the third-party cookie because of litigation or because of the regulatory bodies in the UK stepping in and all those things. And so they’re kind of banking on this not changing. I tend to argue that it’s already changed whether or not Google deprecates cookies now or six months from now or 18 months from now or whenever, the world has already changed and we already need to change with it.

TOM STACKPOLE: One of the things I was wondering about is, does this move away from third-party cookies remind you of any other kind of moment in your career? Or is there sort of a useful frame that you’ve been relying on to just sort of clarify how you’re thinking about this?

JAMIE SELTZER: Yeah, I mean there are sort of two that come to mind immediately. The first is when I first started my career, and ad servers really became a big thing. That just saved tons of time, tons of energy, and things like that. But then the creation evolution of programmatic, that was an entirely new way of doing business. And you have to learn something new, which is scary sometimes. There’s so much to do, there’s so much to know. But I also think that nobody is an expert. Nobody knows what’s coming. I mean, even Google doesn’t know what’s coming because they don’t know how everyone is going to use their products and how everyone is going to evolve. And so I think we all have to just accept that we’re all going to learn on the fly a little bit, but also we see the opportunity that programmatic gave to individuals who jumped on it early to companies who started building solutions. I mean, it is a huge opportunity, and I think this, in many ways, reminds me of that opportunity.

TOM STACKPOLE: So if I were a company and I came to you today and I were in a panic and was trying to figure out how to adapt to this new environment, what are the first three things that you would tell me to do?

JAMIE SELTZER: The first thing I would tell any client to do in this situation is figure out where you are now. As in, understand how much of your media spend right now is dependent on cookies. How much of your technology stack is currently dependent on third-party cookies? And the third piece I’d actually think about is what is your legal framework set up for? We talk a lot about technology. We talk a lot about what we can do, technology lets us do and doesn’t let us do. We talk a lot about consumers and what they want, but ultimately, we also have to make sure that we are legally compliant in collecting the data that we want to collect, and that has a legal framework around it. We need our lawyers to make sure that our terms and conditions are clear and we’re giving cookie consent where it is necessary and things like that. So those are probably the first three things I would audit, which is the first thing I would do, is just understand your baseline. And then prioritize, make a list of the things that need to change immediately. So you need to prioritize what it is you want to do based on that audit. That’s the thing that we’re really pushing hard on for our clients right now if they haven’t done it already. And then you build tests and test cookie list solutions or test different solutions like custom algorithms that optimize towards things like attention instead of two others. And so I think it’s really about starting with an audit and assessment, prioritization, and then a robust learning agenda, test-and-learn plan that will help us, based on whatever time you have, get to a better place.

JUAN MARTINEZ: We forgot to ask the most important question.


JUAN MARTINEZ: What is your favorite cookie joke?

JAMIE SELTZER: It’s not a joke so much as I really, really like it when they always use Cookie Monster. Like somebody had put Cookie Monster and it just said, “Winter is coming.” And so the mesh of Cookie Monster and Game of Thrones really just sort of solidified it for me.

TOM STACKPOLE: Well, Jamie Seltzer, thank you so much for coming on and talking about cookies.

JAMIE SELTZER: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me. I don’t think I’ve had this much fun talking about the end of the cookie in a long time, so thank you.

TOM STACKPOLE: That was Jamie Seltzer. She’s an executive vice president at Havas Media Network.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Next time on Tech at Work, is your team making good use of collaboration tools? Probably not. Slack, email, Zoom, and so many other tools of the norm, but how many of us have really taken the time to figure out the best ways to use them?

TOM STACKPOLE: We’ll talk with a researcher who’s studying exactly that, to get his advice on matching the right tools to the right tasks. And we’ll hear from a former product team leader in the tech industry who will share what she’s learned about how to use communication tools on real life teams. That’s in two weeks right here in the HBR IdeaCast feed, in addition to the regular Tuesday episode.

JUAN MARTINEZ: Thanks to our team, senior producer, Anne Saini. Senior editor, Curt Nickisch. Audio product manager, Ian Fox. And senior production specialist, Rob Eckhardt. Special thanks to our friends on HBR’s video and social teams, Nicole Smith, Ramsey Khabbaz, Kelsey Hansen, Scott LaPierre, and Elainy Mata. And much gratitude to our fearless leaders, Maureen Hoch and Adi Ignatius. Thanks for listening to Tech At Work, a special series of the HBR IdeaCast. I’m Juan Martinez.

TOM STACKPOLE: And I’m Tom Stackpole, join us again in two weeks.

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