When It Crumbles: Why Marketers Must Prepare Their Post-Cookie Strategy

March 14, 2019 Ginna Hall

An analysis of twenty companies worldwide found that 64% of their tracking cookies were either blocked or deleted by web browsers.

It’s time for advertisers to start thinking about their post-cookie strategy.

Cookies have been a staple of digital advertising since the early days. Large parts of the digital ad industry are tied to this standard. But the cookie is beginning to crumble as we shift our media consumption to mobile devices, as users begin to delete cookies, and as browsers and regulators focus on digital privacy.

Marketers are aware that the role of cookies in the ad ecosystem is eroding. According to a September 2017 survey of U.S. brand-side digital marketing executives, more than 60% of respondents believed they will no longer need to rely on cookies for the majority of their digital marketing within the next two years.

All Signs Point to Cookieless

These are many indicators pointing to a long-term trend with an inevitable end point. The ad industry’s dependence on the cookie will not last. The signals that tracking as we know it is changing include:

  • Apple's Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature in Safari
  • The EU’s privacy regulations
  • California’s Consumer Privacy Act
  • Chrome’s popular cookie blockers
  • Google’s removal of the DoubleClick ID (now the Google ID) from its log files

Mobile Forces New Ways of Tracking

The rise in mobile shopping has also created cookie-tracking challenges within digital marketing. Cross-device tracking is an essential capability in a world of multi-channel, multi-device using consumers.

Cookies allow client-side data persistence as platforms store a unique ID that can be used to identify each user. This traditional cookie-based tracking captures the majority of online conversions at the moment.

Just a few years ago, people spent most of their time online on desktops and laptops. But today, U.S. adults spend 1 hour, 14 minutes more on their mobile devices each day than on their computers, eMarketer estimates. They also spend 87% of their total mobile internet minutes in-app.

It’s always been more difficult to track consumers on mobile apps. Mobile apps do not use cookies or tracking tags in the same way that the mobile web and desktops do. Every mobile app is a separate environment that does not share data across other apps.

As a result, advertisers cannot use cookies to track which actions were driven by clicks/ad exposure across apps the way they can across the web. Placing a site tag in an app is not a feasible solution for tracking in-app activity.

But even marketers who are aware of the need to use alternative methods of user tracking may find it difficult to leave old habits behind.

Retaining Capabilities Without Cookies

There are several possible solutions designed to solve for cookie-less, cookie-loss, and cookie blocking circumstances.

One option is that the next generation of tracking solutions will leverage non-cookie signals to identify consumers. Taken together, factors such as device, operating system, browser, IP address and others create a digital fingerprint that is able to identify a user with comparable or superior accuracy to a cookie.

This form of cookieless tracking is accurate because of the relative uniqueness of our browsers, their configurations, and our computer systems. The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s ‘Panopticlick’ project found that 94.2% of their site visitors’ browsers were unique.

But this won’t meet advertisers’ need for cross-device and cross-channel identification. Although fingerprinting may work with a mobile browser, it faces the same challenges when tracking in-app.

The Future of Tracking and Measurement

Mar tech companies are pursuing a variety of strategies to facilitate tracking and marketing measurement. Major industry players with their own stores of first-party data and strong partnerships are better positioned to develop solutions for a cookieless world.

Some are proposing integrations to fill the need for a universal advertising ID, which would help publishers and ad tech/mar tech companies level the playing field with Google, Facebook, Amazon and other platforms with vast logged-in user data. But a shared ID, used exclusively for campaign attribution versus targeting, is still cookie-based.

The digital ecosystem is continuously changing. Brands, publishers, and ad tech/mar tech providers are on the front lines of this transition. Forward-looking companies such as Nielsen are already moving toward cookieless measurement approaches, not simply waiting to react when they disappear.

It’s time for the ad tech/mar tech ecosystem to work toward comprehensive and privacy-friendly integration options for companies across all devices and environments -- and help marketers succeed when the cookie crumbles.

Learn More

Download our ebrief to learn why it’s time to start thinking about your post-cookie strategy: Why Marketers Should Prepare for a Cookie-Less World

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