Mobile Marketing and the YouTube Cookie Shift

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Google announced recently that YouTube, its video-sharing platform, will leave cookies behind and turn to logged-in user data to verify views and ensure that relevant advertising reaches the right consumers, especially in the mobile space.

The January 20 announcement carries major implications for mobile marketing and advertisers. As cookies are replaced in a mobile ecosystem — which YouTube says generates more than half its views — partnerships will tighten and the advantages of first-party data will take an even greater center-stage role.

The YouTube-Cookie Shift: What It Means for Measurement and Targeting
In a nutshell, Google is turning to the true potential of first-party data that its YouTube users represent. Logged-in users will strengthen YouTube’s ability to accurately track views — skipping cookies in favor of Google’s Customer Match.

Moving to logged-in user data also allows publishers, brands, and marketing to draw on all the highly contextual demographic and behavioral data that Google gathers as its mobile consumers search and interact with services. The shift additionally solves for cross-device challenges — device to device, logged-in Google users represent a data flow that cookies struggle to capture.

The change represents deeper implications still. Google is rolling out the shift for YouTube, but there are already indicators in place that something more far-reaching is going on.

Shifting Away from Cookies: In Search of Google’s Ultimate Goal
Google’s move away from cookies for YouTube, Ad Week notes, suggests deeper transformations to come across all of Google’s platforms. In October 2016, the article reports, Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, said a growing percentage of the company’s consumers are signing-in, and that all Google users appear to sign-in when accessing Google on smartphones and other mobile devices. The company additionally made its logged-in data intentions clear last year, when it pegged the approach as key to the future of cross-device tracking success.

The setup has happened already. All the terms and conditions, especially around privacy, that Google has been changing have been heading toward this current shift. Read the fine print of recent modifications to T&Cs around Google individual products — YouTube, Gmail, and the like. All of them basically say, “We want to have your permission to unify your log-in experiences across every product you use in Google, and we want your permission to leverage them.”

At the end of the day, the death of the cookie has been declared a number of times, but this YouTube announcement may be the real (first) death knell. That being said, publishers (and marketing) may not be quite ready for a cookie-less marketing world — the industries may not be there quite yet, technologically — but this is a major indicator that the news of the cookie’s demise has not been exaggerated.

Mobile Marketing’s Stake: What the Change Means for the Industry
When it comes to agencies and marketers, Google’s shift from cookies to first-party logged-in user data stands to make our work a bit more. Initially, we’ll need to know what are all the nuances that come with this evolution. What data will go in? What data will come out? Thinking about how walled gardens work, in general, we’ll end up with a divergence from the norm: Google’s logged-in data universe is going to have its own set of rules, its own tracking capabilities, and its own limitations. What the industry is likely to find out is that there will almost certainly be considerations around what is the one source of truth or information. We’ll have to sort that out.

But the end result will be a brighter future, industry-wide. Marketing will absolutely see the mobile consumer more consistently and holistically across their devices, and insights into consumer, consumption, and media patterns will improve even further (advertisers will see truer pictures of campaign performance and won’t have to rely on inferences based on cookie-driven data). Thanks to these benefits, mobile marketing will have the opportunity to take the ball, run with it, and further show the value of first-party data over other kinds of the data — the type typically not based on first-party consumer permissions, reliant only on (sometimes questionable) scale.

It is on the mobile marketing industry to optimize what this means, working with its partners — and with Google — to create the next best recipe for advertisers’ media mix, aligning brands with what the new logged-in ecosystem data reveals. The present is catching up to longstanding predictions. YouTube is a significant canary in the coal mine when it comes to cookies’ demise, and mobile marketing is wise to pay close attention, tracking its own evolution and important next steps alongside these latest transformations.

Tyler Johnson is the director of programmatic sales and strategy at Verve, where he focuses on strategy development, operationalizing, and sales of Verve’s programmatic solutions.