Amazon strikes ad data deal with Reach as Google kills off cookies

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Tech giant Amazon has struck a deal with the UK’s largest publisher Reach over obtaining customer data to target online advertising, as the media industry scrambles to respond to Google’s move to axe “cookies”.

In one of the first such agreements in Europe, Amazon and Reach unveiled a partnership on Monday designed to compensate for the loss of “third party” cookies that help gather information about users by tracking their activity across websites to help target advertising.

Google said this month that it had started to remove cookies on its Chrome browser, following a similar move by Apple to block them over Safari, aiming to switch off all third-party cookies by the end of the year. 

Reach said it will partner with Amazon on sharing “contextual” first-party data, for example allowing advertisers to know what articles people are looking at, with the US tech group using the information to sell more targeted advertising on the UK publisher’s sites. 

The companies said the deal comes “as the advertising world tackles deprecation of third-party cookies, a long-anticipated industry milestone that Google kick-started in early January”. Financial details for the arrangement were not revealed.

The partnership involves the contextual advertising of Mantis, originally a brand safety tool that could ensure that brands were not being presented next to potentially harmful or inappropriate material. 

The tool is also now used to place ads next to content users may want to see, helping to better target specific audiences with relevant advertising. Other publishers also use Mantis.

Amazon Ads director of EU adtech sales Frazer Locke said that “as the industry shifts towards an environment where cookies are not available, first party contextual signals are critical in helping us develop actionable insights that enable our advertisers to reach relevant audiences without sacrificing reach, relevancy or ad performance”.

The loss of cookies means that almost all internet users will become close to unidentifiable for advertisers. The risk for publishers is that their advertising offer becomes much less valuable at a time when they are already losing ad revenues, which has led to thousands of job cuts in the past year. Reach last year announced 450 roles would be axed.

Other media groups are also looking at deals involving their customer data, according to industry executives. Some publishers are experimenting more with registration pages or paywalls that mean people give first party information that they can use, such as email addresses and logins. Reach is already seeking to harvest more such data from readers.

Jon Steinberg, chief executive of Future, a rival FTSE 250 publisher, said that the “elimination of third-party cookies is one of the biggest changes to the advertising market in the digital age”.

He added that “advertisers and agencies will be looking to publishers that have high quality editorial, scale, and rich first party data”, and predicted that “advertisers, agencies, and quality publishers [will work] even more closely together to reach audiences that drive outcomes for brands”.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of advertising form S4 Capital, said that some clients that did not have access to first party data on their customers were “panicking”.

He said that there would be “more focus” on getting customers to sign up to websites with their information as companies attempted to boost their stores of “consented data”.