MDA’s first virtual ‘Digital Wednesday Lite’ discusses the cookie apocalypse

The monthly Digital Wednesdays hosted by the Malaysian Digital Association (MDA) took a long hiatus in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Determined to not allow the hiatus to continue, MDA hosted its first virtual ‘Digital Wednesday Lite’ last night via the newest and buzziest app on the block, Clubhouse. 

Starting at 8:30 pm, the topic of last night’s panel discussion was ‘The Cookie Apocalypse: (The future of marketing in a cookie-less world)’. The panelists included Daler Kendzhaev, Head of Annalect at OMG; Wing Tak, VP of Digital ADEX at Astro; Dominic Loh, Head of Commerce and Optimisation at REV Media Group and Andrew Pinto, Head of Marketing at

The panel discussion was moderated by several individuals including Nicholas Sagau, President of MDA and Chief Operations Officer at Rev Media Group, Kausern Hieu, Country Manager at NuffNang Malaysia; Chris Wee, Chief Strategy Officer at Omnia and Chryssa Lai, Head of Digital Marketing at Maxis. 

What is the cookie apocalypse? 

Third party cookies have been trending significantly lately due to Apple’s decision to ban the cross-website tracker and Google’s announcement that it will phase it out by 2022. 

Third-party cookies offer valuable data for advertisers to use when strategizing their targeted ads, measuring its effectiveness and stopping fraud. However, with the increase in discussion surrounding user privacy, the way third party cookies track an individual’s personal browsing also raised privacy concerns, leading to Google’s announcement. 

“After initial dialogue with the web community, we are confident that with continued iteration and feedback, privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms like the Privacy Sandbox can sustain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will render third-party cookies obsolete,” Google stated in its blog post. “Once these approaches have addressed the needs of users, publishers, and advertisers, and we have developed the tools to mitigate workarounds, we plan to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome.” 

So how does this announcement impact advertisers and businesses? 

According to Wing Tak, this move first and foremost will fast track certain aspects of business such as its structure and use of resources. “The phasing out of third-party cookies might also cause advertisers to shift towards Programmatic listening with first-party data intact,” he said. 

Andrew also chimed in to offer his perspective and predictions on how advertisers and businesses would be impacted as the phasing out continues. 

“The reality is I don’t think there will be zero opportunities for advertisers to do targeting,” Andrew said. “It will be replaced with strategic collaborations and partnerships while respecting the privacy of people on the internet.”

To find ways to rebuild the digital ad ecosystem without relying on third-party cookies and to understand alternate techs, Andrew said that he has signed up for the Federated Learning of Cohorots (FLoC).  

Federated Learning uses machine learning to build a robust model without sharing personally identifiable data. In simple terms, FLoC is potentially a new way browsers could enable interest-based advertising on the web so instead of observing the browsing behavior of individuals, companies would observe the behavior of a cohort of similar people and make advertising decisions based on aggregated behavioural data. 

Daler also shared a similar sentiment as he says while publishers and advertisers should care about this change as it will affect current practices and affect measurement, it is not the end of the world. 

“I believe Google is doing the right thing and with alternatives like FLoC, using unbiased and ethical approaches could be achieved,” Daler said. 

How should affected parties prepare for this change?  

Dominic said Rev Media Group (RMG) has already been transitioning off third-party cookies for a number of its platforms and have moved to first-party cookies for data collection. 

“Consolidating your data like we’ve done at RMG is an important step for brands and especially publishers,” he said. “Try and find the silos of your data and start working on an audience centric solution.”

Chryssa on the other hand, admits that the third-party cookieless future remains a big grey fuzz because no one knows what is actually going to happen. However, she says this is a good opportunity for businesses to shift more attention onto content marketing. “While they won’t have the data to execute the best audience segmentation, they are going to learn to use the right kind of content to target the audience they want to target,” she said. 

As the panel passionately dissected the matter – at its core the conversation centered on the Privacy Sandbox – Google’s initiative centered on building open standards for a more private web and TurtleDove – a framework for an API (application programming interface) that enables behavioural targeting while limiting the amount of user data that is shared with advertisers making the browser the hub for user data.

The panelists candidly shared their thoughts on how the deprecation of the third party cookies would bring about the thriving of certain players in the digital ecosystem and also a tough survival for certain other players. They were all of the opinion that the first to take a hit would be the Programmatic industry and also shared tidbits on the WIP initiatives at their end that were being put in place at their end to brace for impact.

What will be expected of agencies?

One of the questions asked by Jayaram Nagaraj, the agency partner for Facebook Malaysia, was on the role agencies will play in providing solutions to businesses that are struggling to adapt to the transition away from using third-party cookies. 

According to Chief Operating Officer of Omnicom, Eileen, who was invited to speak during yesterday’s discussion, moving forward, an agencies’ role in this context is to support its clients and advertisers and nurture their understanding of data building capabilities and the available alternatives to gather data from. 

“Having conversations beyond paid media advertising and actually providing advice on AdTech and MarTech to power our clients’ next year’s digital campaigns will be a good step,” she said. 

Chryssa on the other hand, threw the question back to Jayaram and asked what platform owners can do for agencies and clients. “We will be looking out to you guys for guidance and we’ll be asking what you can do for us,” she said. 

The event scheduled for 90 minutes eventually ran into a 2 hour session and was packed with interesting high moments and multi dimensional point of views. Throughout the chat, the panelists echoed the opinion of how changes like the cookie apocalypse are inherently course correcting market forces that are designed to be equalizers and will therefore bring out the best in all the stakeholders involved – pushing everyone in the right direction and putting users right back at the center – where they belong.

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