All Articles Marketing Digital Technology The third-party cookie is dead. Why adtech needs optimism now more than ever

The third-party cookie is dead. Why adtech needs optimism now more than ever

EMX CEO Michael Zacharski explains the link between optimism and innovation and why adtech shouldn’t mourn the third-party cookie. He also offers advice on creating an optimistic mindset.

6 min read

Digital Technology

The third-party cookie is dead. Why adtech needs optimism now more than ever

Gerd Altmann / Pixabay

“The third-party cookie will soon be dead!”

While this news has caused a good deal of doom and gloom in the adtech space, I believe it is actually a reason for optimism. Furthermore, I propose that this kind of potentially paradoxical optimism is not only what has defined our industry, but it’s also what will carry us to our next level of evolution.

Why is the death of the third-party cookie cause for optimism?

It’s understandable that the end of the third-party cookie has caused many in adtech to worry. For one thing, some business models obviously won’t be viable in the future. Moreover, adtech is populated by a broad range of people, and while all of us have ridden waves of innovation, that doesn’t necessarily make us all “innovators” with the stomach to dive into change.

But for true innovators, the death of the third-party cookie is exciting because it means we’re on the precipice of something new. And while the future remains unknown, there are already at least three potential new models that could replace the third-party cookie.

  1. Advances in probabilistic modeling that do not touch personally identifiable information (PII)
  2. Deterministic solutions with an eye on privacy and legitimate interest, leveraging hashed identifiers that can be linked between the consumer and advertiser ecosystem
  3. The building of frictionless and nuanced consumer privacy interfaces that will empower a more robust, permission-based marketing system which shares relevant data inside a sanitized browser or television centric environment

Which model will win? Nobody knows at this point. But that’s the exciting part. We’re returning to the investments, experiments and problem-solving that characterized adtech’s first two decades. Yes, that period was chaotic. But powered by intense collective optimism, it also gave us many incredible new technologies that continue to transform the media industry and the world.

Why optimism is the key to innovation

When analyzing innovation, we frequently fall into the trap of looking backward through rose-colored glasses. Henry Ford’s mass-production of the car seems inevitable, but the safer bet would have been breeding faster horses. Steve Jobs’ creation of the iPod makes total sense, but why not just build a better Walkman? After all, it’s easier to make a better version of existing technology, than to imagine something new.

But what happens when you try to create something new? Contrary to the “founder mythology” that permeates Silicon Valley, innovating is not necessarily pleasant. Essentially, you’re swimming upstream. Yes, your idea should be exciting, especially to you. But like any human challenging conventional wisdom, you’re going to face fears and doubts, not to mention community skepticism.

Enter: the importance of optimism. Optimism is the positive outlook of the future that fuels innovation — the process of actually building that future. According to those who study the brain and human behavior, optimism is the best way to push forward in the face of fear and skepticism. To be a successful innovator, you don’t have to be fearless, but you must be relentlessly optimistic. Wherever possible, innovators should harness the power of optimism, both internally and sourced from their teams. 

Pillars for building optimism and fueling innovation

When I was in my 30s, I learned a valuable lesson: you can’t stop the future, but you can adopt an optimistic mindset that’ll improve the way you experience disruption. Here’s what I tell my team about forging an optimistic mindset.

Create a process for listening to customers

Ultimately, whatever we invent must find a home in the marketplace. While existing companies fear disruption, they should recognize their advantage: customers. By listening to your customers, you gather valuable market intelligence.

Leverage partnerships

We work in a collaborative field. Partnerships can be forged with advertisers, agencies and technology vendors. Those partnerships may not always bear fruit, but even the least consequential collaborations should be learning opportunities. And the more you know, the easier it is to be optimistic about the future.

Engage your colleagues in debate about where the market is going

None of us have the ability to predict the future. But if we can have an open debate — one where everyone feels comfortable voicing their thoughts, right or wrong — we surface valuable information, build consensus and harness optimism across the team.

Make small bets and commit

The worst decision is no decision at all. But the alternative to that kind of paralysis is not necessary to put all your chips on a single bet. An optimistic mindset means committing to multiple small bets and having multiple paths to reach your objective. This way you’re acknowledging the uncertainty of your thinking by hedging your bets, but still leveraging what poker players call “pot commitment,” a highly motivated position.

Reality-test your assumptions and decisions at periodic intervals

Remember, committing to your bet isn’t a death pact. It’s important to reexamine your hypothesis at periodic intervals. As a huge fan of the film, The Hunt For Red October, I call this a “crazy Ivan” methodology. (Check out this scene to see what I mean.) The idea is that when everyone is going in one direction, take a beat and challenge everything. If you can’t think of a reason to change course, proceed.

Fail fast.

Failure isn’t a bad thing. We learn a lot from failure, and by failing fast we learn fast. By adopting the “fail fast” ethos, optimists continue pushing forward. And when one of their ideas finds traction, they accelerate toward innovation. 


Michael Zacharski is CEO of EMX, which solves complex challenges and drives measurable business results for agencies, advertisers and publishers by providing solutions across full-service and programmatic practice areas. EMX is the programmatic marketplace division of global marketing company, ENGINE. Most recently, Michael was CEO of bRealTime, where he led the development of the company’s automated global exchange for both demand and supply-side partners.


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