1. Human + AI vs. Hallucinations

The Cambridge Dictionary’s word of the year for 2023 was ‘hallucination’, describing when generative AI returns persuasive, but ultimately incorrect information.

It’s a good reminder of the challenges, alongside the vast potential we see with each new wave of innovation.

Lest we forget that in the past, AI in ad tech was highly touted, without necessarily achieving what it originally promised. The difference now of course – with the rise of OpenAI and its competitors – is that generative AI is effectively table stakes.

In 2024 then, with AI so widespread as to be effectively open sourced, we should be marvelling less at the tech itself and the jargon around it. Instead moving more towards more specific use cases – whether that means solving challenges around cookie deprecation and wider signal loss, targeting, measurement, emissions reduction or even reducing inequality. We should also be explaining how and why tech is now allowing us to do this differently.

Now to the guardrails. The way forward is not to treat AI as total automation or ‘set and forget’ – instead it’s about tying the technology to real-world checks and verification. That is how you avoid your own version of hallucinations – of an amazing opportunity still going awry.

And let me give a concrete example, to show this is not all theoretical – and can be done: Our Intent Personas product provides demographic targeting, but without cookies, IDs or people-based data and profiling. How do we ensure the tech behind it is on track? Those targeting choices are cross-checked against our own panel of humans. People belonging to those same demographic groups.

As someone once rightly pointed out, AI is only AI until it has a practical use case – then it just works.

2. Further Chrome Delay?

Firefox and Safari ended support for third-party cookies in 2019 and 2020 respectively. For Google’s Chrome browser, it’s complicated – no doubt in part because of its size and competition concerns. Even after Google seemed to confirm that 2023’s cookie deadline wouldn’t budge again, a further possible delay from the CMA’s side emerged.

But our own surveys of consumers, both in the UK and Germany, suggest all of the above may be missing a broader point. We found that 7 out of 10 UK consumers – and even more, around 76% in Germany – were effectively already pre-empting the shutdown, using several different methods to limit or even shut down people-based tracking completely.

Given the complexity of Google’s Topics API cookie replacement, and potential pushbacks from the CMA, the publisher community, and others – it is entirely possible that further delay kicks in. Again though, in many ways I would argue that doesn’t alter the broader picture. Why would you not already be exploring the alternatives, when cookies cover only a fraction of one browser’s user base, which itself only represents a portion of the overall market?

In short, uncertainty is not going away. But seeing the positive, we should find plenty more innovation around both targeting and measurement outside of the walled gardens, without the use of data signals which may only be disrupted further down the line.

3. Context, Intent & Identity

2023 saw the fifth anniversary of GDPR. Though not unrelated, it was the situation around Chrome and third-party cookies that arguably generated more headlines.

In March, we surveyed UK agencies and brands, finding that they planned to shift 8% of spend from audience targeting to contextual methods. And this was even before Google reiterated its 2024 deadline for cookie shutdown.

From that point on, it seemed that any and every tech platform was launching its own contextual offering. Coming from a company that had been working in this space for several years, this was a great vindication for Nano’s focus.

As the process of signal loss continues, intent and contextual targeting – alongside new forms of measurement – will be increasingly widely used. When they become standard, as people-based targeting once was, we will stop speaking so much about context or intent and that language will likely blend into the background.

Whether cookies finally disappear on schedule or later, the wider process of signal loss will continue to evolve regardless – IP addresses, link decoration, mobile SDKs and perhaps even certain uses of 1st party data look set to face restrictions and further challenges in future.