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‘We can do more and do it faster’: How AI will transform the cookie-free future

Tin toy robot standing on top of crushed chocolate chip cookie pieces

Illustration by Robyn Phelps / Shutterstock / The Current

Artificial intelligence was, unsurprisingly, top of mind at last week’s Consumer Electronics Showcase (CES) in Las Vegas — so much so that some attendees seemed overwhelmed by the hype and ready to focus on its practical applications.

“It’s easy to get caught up in AI. I think we’re going to look back at these panels and go, ‘How many times did we say AI?’ It’s all about leveraging it smarter and better,” said Peter Blacker, EVP of streaming and data products at NBCUniversal.

AI is on the rise as the ad-supported internet enters a turning point. Google recently began phasing out third-party tracking cookies on Chrome, which help marketers retarget consumers and build out personalized campaigns. So, the obvious question arises: How can marketers tap in to this technology as they navigate a cookieless web? In other words: How can they leverage it smarter and better?

“AI, just like programmatic, will evolve and simplify and help automate the way we do business,” Brian Danzis, U.S. managing director at ad tech company Seedtag, tells The Current.

AI will likely be crucial for publishers and advertisers in predicting user behavior and analyzing hordes of data to better reach audiences. Marketers today are much more open to embracing AI and new technologies than they were even a few short years ago, says Benjamin Arnold, president at mobile-focused ad tech company Adludio.

As Shruti Tiwari, head of content and media strategy for North America at Ogilvy, succinctly put it: “The foundation was always there, but now we can do more and do it faster.”

First-party data, at greater speed

Without third-party cookies, first-party data collected directly from users is even more valuable, says Arnold. Marketers will likely rely more heavily on the personal information users share, whether it be with publishers or brands — such as their email if they log in to a website — to more effectively reach people.

“AI is giving us transformational capabilities in terms of capturing, analyzing, and understanding huge amounts of data and patterns to build stronger relationships with customers,” Arnold tells The Current.

And “speed is the name of the game,” says Yeonhee DeLorenzo, managing director of media and content at Ogilvy. AI can do all of what Arnold describes, but at a pace far exceeding that of people — though it’s important to keep in mind that people are still in control.

“If we don’t give it the right input, it’s not going to spit out the right output,” DeLorenzo says.

Once the data is analyzed, AI can help marketers “piece together a predictive trend based on user behavior,” says DeLorenzo. This could help brands tailor campaigns to specific demographics, meeting audiences where they’re at rather than being one step behind. Consumers are hungry for personalization.

“Given that consumers are inundated with information and content at their fingertips to choose from, the name of the game is how advertisers provide a more personalized experience to break through the clutter,” DeLorenzo says.

AI could bulk up contextual

First-party data isn’t the only aspect of how AI can help make marketers’ lives easier in a cookieless world. Contextual advertising involves analyzing the content on webpages to deliver relevant ads to audiences.

Arnold also says that “hyper-contextual relevance” is important in a post-cookie world, as AI “gives us unparalleled ability to analyze content and the entire digital ecosystem around a webpage or an app, from news headlines to user comments, and dynamically match ads with relevant audiences and even create brand messaging in real time for that user.”

In some ways contextual is having a “renaissance” because of AI, according to Danzis. Contextual basically aligns the interests of a user based on what they’re consuming. Danzis calls it a “future-proof way to connect with people’s passions and interests and values” that could minimize potential privacy concerns of collecting personal information.

Then again, in a privacy-conscious environment, marketers will just have to be upfront about what they intend to do with a person’s personal information. DeLorenzo says that convenience and a personalized experience could outweigh any potential concerns for consumers, even with AI in the mix.

“We are already seeing smart innovation and new privacy-conscious solutions come in, which is incredibly exciting for the industry,” Arnold says, adding that the rise of independent ad tech firms have gone a long way in that regard.

“[These] providers are more adaptable when it comes to different brand preferences, and just more transparent versus the walled gardens of larger tech companies,” he says.