Are Cookies Still Relevant? On Device IDs and the Future of Precise Targeting

If content is king, then context is queen

Bill Gates in 1996 wrote an essay titled “Content Is King” and almost 25 years later, it’s still being quoted. At present, however, where 60 hours of video are uploaded every minute, the phrase takes on an added layer. Today's challenge is not only to produce content but to also create content that resonates. Translating it in the business and advertising perspective, successful content is based on context.

Cookie: The appetizer data

Cookies are snippets of codes stored in a web user’s browser directory. Cookies allow a user to save their previous activities in their browser (a.k.a. history). It includes websites visited and even login credentials. With cookies, it is possible for a user to have a smoother experience because the browser already knows the user’s preference.

Once a web user enters their website it creates a cookie, the server can use the cookie as an identification card and determine what pages the user visited, revisited and so on. For an e-commerce website, login credentials can also be matched.

In the past, especially before the advent of mobile apps, marketers mainly relied on cookies to gather data about their target market's online behavior. However, precisely because it's website-based, it cannot keep up with the requirements needed to give an in-depth profile of today's mobile users.

Device ID: Precision tool

With the advent of the mobile phone, user habits also changed and cookies, being browser-based, could no longer provide accurate information on user behavior. Besides, there was also the problem of overlapping and deleted cookies, which made it difficult to consistently identify users.

This was when marketers shifted to mobile device IDs, which are unique and anonymous identifiers that correspond to a single, specific mobile device, or user. Because people rarely go anywhere without their phones, it has become a part of their identity. We can say a user has a 1:1 relationship with their device.

With Device IDs, we can gather more specific, individualized information on user behavior including location and time spent on the phone. Because the identifier is unique, it also made attribution simpler. Lastly, because Device IDs are anonymous, we can profile users without using Personally Identifiable Information (PII). As user privacy becomes an increasing priority, this is an important benefit.

The future of targetting

With technology becoming more complex and privacy regulations becoming stricter, there have been many discussions on the future of user profiling, targeting, and attribution. The general consensus is to find a unified tool that can work across multiple platforms while prioritizing user privacy. Last year, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Tech Lab proposed an industry-wide initiative to find a better solution than cookies. Instead, they suggested a standardized user token, where the user has full control over their privacy settings and preferences.

Meanwhile, a recent article by AdExchanger calls for a browser-based identity standard that will function the same way as a mobile device ID. The main challenge is getting all the industry players involved to make this vision a reality.

Do you think there's a future for Cookies? What solution can you propose to replace it?

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