No More Cookies – Why a Time Machine Could Save You

As marketers, we have gotten lazy. In the last 15 years, we have become over metricised. We built a case for moving budgets from traditional channels to digital around the premise that you could track everything.  Transparency, we said was the future of advertising.

Our operations, engineering and finance colleagues lapped it up. Finally, marketing was speaking their language. Marketing became a mathematics problem and that suited the purse-string holders just fine.

So what happened since the noughties when this concept of marketing was adopted by most of the corporate world. Did we learn anything? Actually, we went backwards and Google’s walk-back of third party cookies will be the icing on the cake.

It Has Come Full Circle

So, as we are tired of hearing that John Wanamaker quote at budget meetings “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Well here is the problem, what started out as being transparent is actually far from it. Most digital advertising confuses correlation with causation. Again, we pulled a fast one with this. Also, display/programmatic, in general, does not deliver click-through conversions. It delivers view-through conversions. Now, this is where the sleight of hand happens.

To get more budget and inflate our egos we marketers present correlation as causation. Then we mention something about neural networks and big data which plays to the engineers and accountants on the board.

All in all, we succeeded in hoodwinking the quants into approving more budget.

However, now this has come full circle. We need to do more. We need to treat marketing as marketing, not engineering.

The Great Marketing Swindle

We, marketers, knew it was a charade from the get-go. You see, we all learned about direct marketing way back when you had to do the calculations with a calculator, pen and paper (well yes I know spreadsheets but give me that for dramatic effect). We kept this part of our training quiet to maintain our street cred. But none the less it is a key part of what we do.

Back then marketing departments and agencies hired proper mathematicians, analysts and actuaries to analyse past data and help us refine our creative and media buying. This was all going on way before digital advertising.

But at the board level the engineers, accountants and operations people were blind to this. You see, despite the very best analysis the human element combined with trends over time and new products and ideas entering the market render the best statistical analysis a probability guide.

Not an engineering solution or an accounting calculation but a bet. A bet based on a probability derived from the past, However, business moves fast in 2021 and the half-live of past data has shortened dramatically.


Go Back and Hire an Old School Direct Marketer


So, what should CMOs and Marketing Directors do? Well, go old school. Here are my recommendations

  • Hire a statistician inhouse
  • Invest more in creative
  • Get an old school direct marketer – Even as a semi-retired consultant.
  • Look at the impact of creative campaigns on sales (your statistician will do this)
  • Do old school customer profiling and find out where you can target more of the same people
  • Pull back on digital display advertising but invest more in Above The Line media – Build your brand
  • Leverage Search Ads aggressively
  • Get your UX on point – Imagine your ATL campaigns as an extension of your site/shop/venue and join up the user flow
  • Leverage organic social media for frequency and to establish and keep credibility
  • Ask customers questions
  • Optimise your customers thought process
  • Do proper experiments – Go beyond leaning on algorithms and neural networks.


Properly trained marketers are not sweating the demise of third-party cookies one bit. It will open up creative opportunities and ultimately result in better performing campaigns.

Digital-only marketers have a problem but it is one easily solved. They must go old school and rely on marketing best practices and not on media buying efficiency to drive their performance.

Remember, in my opinion, the entire programmatic sector was built on correlation and not causation. It’s a marketers job to focus on causation and everything else will fall into place.