The Dawn of the Age of Trust and the Death of the Cookie Era

Last week, internet giants Google officially declared the death of the Cookie Age, as they announced they’ll be fully eliminating the use of third-party tracking cookies over the next year.

This is undoubtedly good news for internet users, but what does it mean for brands and agencies? Among many things, the Death of the Cookie Era will spring the Dawn of the Trust Era — and that will require a new way of thinking, and a new playbook.

The irreversible tipping point

Once the backbone of the digital ad landscape, the unstoppable backlash by users against privacy issues online has finally reached an irreversible tipping point — and it seems the tech giants are moving before government regulations around the world force their hand.

By Google’s own admission in their official post on the matter, the massive proliferation of aggressive data harvesting by third-party cookies has created an enormous erosion of trust in advertisers, and the platforms in general. Therefore, a visible and dramatic shift is needed, and fast.

With their latest announcement, Google explicitly confirmed they will fully withdraw support for third-party cookies in Chrome and services they control, and will not be replacing them with alternative identifiers to track individuals.

This follows recent moves by Safari and Firefox, who recently announced equally bold sweeping policies against the once all-conquering cookie.

A pretty dramatic move indeed.

The shift to first-party data

It’s true that Google is becoming a privacy-first organisation. And from my own conversations with Googlers and involvement in various projects and initiatives, it’s clear that there is a truthful and very real rising tide toward a human-centric future.

But this doesn’t mean that Google (or indeed other advertisers) will stop gathering information about you, and serve you relevant ads based on user habits and actions online.

Instead of using the old, invasive data harvesting techniques and personalised profiles of the Cookie Era that could pinpoint an individual based on their browsing history, a new horizon powered by major advances in aggregation, anonymisation and on-device processing will instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.

In this new Age of Trust, context and quality is everything. Instead of relying on brute-force manipulations of price and promotion, brands will have to work a lot harder to earn attention, trust and action from their users based on meaningful and real factors of trust, relationships and interest.

Brands simply have to create something of value to earn trust. It’s no longer a matter of “target and hope”.

Creativity wins the race

It’ll come as no surprise that ultimately, the winner of this paradigm shift is the user. As we withdraw from synthetic, manipulative forms of advertising, we’ll see a return to the same factors that have made humans engage with products since the dawn of time: emotion.

Of course, rational advertising focused on tight, factual calls to action still have a place in the marketing mix, but it’s a matter of balance and nuance, as the great Les Binet extensively writes about in The Long and the Short of It: Balancing Short and Long-Term Marketing Strategies.

But the often-overlooked truth (especially in the digital marketing space) is that our brains are hardwired to comprehend emotional responses. And as we continue to mature as citizens of the digital age, we’ve become much more discerning about what is worth clicking on and what is just… an ad.

Brands (and their agencies) can no longer be obsessed with simply saying what people want to hear in the hopes that someone will eventually buy something.

For brands, it’s truly time to put an end to the lazy, shallow probability-obsessed approach to advertising of the past, and double down on presenting people with meaningful, honest and real reasons to engage with ads, and ultimately buy their products.

Now is the time for Big, Bold Creative – the kind that cuts through the noise, captures attention and elicits those emotions. In many ways, it’s a step back in time to when the Creative mattered as much, if not more than the technology used to carry it to its intended audience.

And that will need a mindset shift across the industry. A new playbook. One that prioritises how people feel and what they want, and more importantly why they should care about what you have to say — because in the Age of Trust, emotion is the precious commodity.

And as we all know, nothing is more difficult to master than emotions.

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