Does advertising on the ‘Actual Internet’ even matter?

By Mike Shields / Founder of Shields Strategic Consulting.

Over the the past few months, how many times have I read or myself written some the phrase “post-cookie” world, or Cookiepocalypse or Cookiemaggeadon or something variation of? Nothing – I promise you – NOTHING- with regards to digital ad targeting will ever be the same.

If this past week’s round of earnings reports is any indicator, this is the Best Apocalypse Ever.

Google and Facebook positively cleaned up. YouTube nearly doubled its revenue, pulling in $7 billion in ad revenue. Amazon nabbed almost $8 billion in its infamous ‘other’ segment (I wish I had such revenue stream on the side. Honey, where’d you get all this money? Oh don’t worry, that’s just my “other” income). Snap crushed it, Linkedin (!) and even Bing (!) had a banner quarter. Ok so Pinterest lost some users, but overall, I’d say Silicon Valley is coasting along pretty nicely.

A few years ago, I remember talking to a sales executive at a fairly major non-duopoly web firm, and he said something to the effect of “we just want a piece of that 15%.”

Meaning, we know 85% of the digital ad market is going to Facebook and Google. We just want a piece of what’s left.

How small is that piece today, now that Amazon is soaring, and Pinterest, Snap, TikTok are all major contenders to form a Sexopoly? (even if I didn’t believe that was possible, you realize I had to write Sexopoly). How much is that 15% going to shrink over the next few years?

On that note – why are we spending so much energy theorizing and debating what happens after cookies and Apple identifiers go away and digital ad targeting on the open web really gets hammered by the regulators?

So you’re saying things could get worse than they are now for those 15-percenters?

It’s got me thinking some pretty dark thoughts like:

  •     Why are investors so confident in this new crop of public ad tech companies that are so reliant on monetizing open web? Yes, a rising tide lifts all boats – but what does a tidal wave do?
  •     Does the open web even matter to brands? Should it?

I say this is a content-loving, uber-pro-journalism/believer in letting all the voices that need to be heard. I want every web publisher to kick ass. Still I wonder why we spend so much time hand wringing and strategizing over cookie alternatives and workarounds when in the big picture, this is such small potatoes. Are we sure brands are that interested? Of course, they all say they care about supporting journalism – but their dollars reveal what really matters to them (and can you blame them?) When we talk about Digital Advertising, we’re talking about Platform Advertising.

It struck me reading Ed Lee’s piece in the New York Times on how BuzzFeed and Vice and Vox and all the other big names from the VC-backed social publishing era are finally looking to make their collective scale work as they maneuver toward SPACs or other funding safe-havens. Not once did the piece mention cookies or data – yes, these publishing upstarts are in the ad business, but they’re much more interested in driving commerce, or selling products at Walmart, or as The Information’s Sahil Patel reported – selling shows to streaming services. It’s telling how little Jonah Perretti and Jim Bankoff seem to care about saving retargeting or making UID 2.0 work.

Ironically, the only new digital publishing power player that seems to care about advertising is Axios, which apparently is pulling in $85 million this year in ads for Think Tanks and Facebook’s Lobbying Team (which is sort of like making all your money from ads from Phillip Morris in the 80s). Axios couldn’t care less about cookies.

Yes, I realize there are loads of caveats. The Apple Id changes will really hit hard in Q3. according to Business Insider. Consumers are going to keep pushing back on tracking, and that has to hurt the platforms at some point, right?. Cookies, by 2023, are really, seriously, we promise, going to be gone, and brands are going to have to adjust.

Or did they already adjust, and won’t need to look back?

How small will that 15% be when the Apocolypse really does get here?


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