How News Media Benefits from a Post-cookie World

In a post-cookie world, can journalism survive? The idea has its skeptics, according to Jeff Turner in the Washington Post

The end of the cookie era comes as the next crisis in a steady stream of threats over recent years, Turner notes, with everything from risky programmatic buying to CMP wars, Facebook’s traffic-killing algorithm change and new privacy regulations. And now, California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) “threatens to kill cookie-based ad targeting and, along with it, millions in potential advertising dollars,” Turner writes.

“Many say the death of the cookie will also lead to an increase in contextual advertising and a resurgence of advertiser blacklisting – a practice that blocks a brand’s advertisement from running against articles that contain a list of blocked topic,” Turner writes. “Since blocked topics tend to surround original journalism and political news, the lack of audience targeting and increase in advertiser blacklists have converged into the most recent threat to publisher revenue.”

He cites a Wall Street Journal article that predicts blacklisting will force news media to move away from hard-hitting news and focus more on lifestyle content. That’s certainly a believable scenario – yet Turner feels this is actually a great opportunity for news media. He gives some solid reasons why the post-cookie era will be “the golden age of publisher-driven advertising.”

Whitelisting Trumps Blacklisting

Many media buyers use blacklists as a strategy to receive lower ad rates – buying generic ‘run of site’ campaigns that span all articles – but with blacklists to omit specific content. The end result is an ad for a financial advertiser, for example, may run on all content except politics.

“However, while this strategy may provide lower ad rates, it will also lower ad performance and user experience. How well would a finance ad work if targeting sporting or celebrity content? Without targeting users’ web history via cookies, the answer is: not well,” Turner explains.

Instead, advertisers would do well to consider whitelisting instead, actively targeting their ads toward content that is aligned with the brand message. Machine learning has made whitelisting even more valuable, as contextual advertising can be scaled to aggregated news platforms and pooled programmatic ad buys. So while blacklisting may cost publishers revenue or force them to change their editorial mission, whitelisting offers a chance for even smaller publishers to secure big brand advertising based on the content they create … not the content they avoid.

“Inevitably, 2020 will be another year of change for digital publishers. However, just like in years past, publishers will continue to thrive if they embrace these industry changes and develop new, differentiated sources of revenue,” Turner concludes. “It is publishers’ investment in trusted, original journalism that will serve as their anchor, allowing them to overcome these changes while simultaneously providing quality content of critical importance to the American democracy and wider public.”