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Cookieless Marketing: Preparing for Cookie Deprecation

Marketers entered 2022 with the haunting specter of a cookieless future on the horizon. While Google’s ambitious cookie deprecation timeline has now been pushed back to mid-2023, the fact remains that marketers have very little time to reinvent their marketing strategies to accommodate the death of the cookie. 

Here’s a look at what to expect in the next 18 months and what you can do now to position yourself for success when third-party cookies go away.

Upcoming changes to third-party cookies

Apple incorporated fledgling Internet Tracking Prevention (ITP) in its Safari browser in 2017. ITP has been revised multiple times in the intervening years as ad tech companies found new ways to work around the algorithm. 

In 2021, Apple released its strictest ITP yet with iOS 15. While iOS 14.5 switched on cookie-blocking protections across all browsers—not just Safari—by default, iOS 15 added email privacy and app tracking transparency (ATT) to further limit third-party data collection. Major advertising platform are already feeling the effects, with Facebook suggesting these privacy updates have contributed to a projected $10B in lost ad revenue. 

Google plans to follow through with its commitment to cookie deprecation, albeit on a longer timeline than originally promised. During the first half of the year, Google plans to work with developers and regulators to devise alternatives to the existing cookie-based system. 

By late 2022, once new APIs are launched in Chrome and testing is complete, advertisers and publishers can begin migrating their services. This first stage is expected to last about nine months, during which time Google will review feedback and make any necessary adjustments. 

Stage two is expected to begin in mid-2023 and last three months. During this stage, Google will phase out all third-party cookies.

Evaluating your martech stack, customer marketing, and marketing strategy

Third-party cookies fuel most aspects of programmatic and digital advertising. Cookie deprecation will impact most of the tactics marketers rely on for effective campaigns:

  • Behavioral advertising– Without data obtained from third-party cookies, marketers will no longer be able to create the detailed profiles they need for targeted campaigns. 
  • Retargeting– Third-party cookies allow ads to follow users from site to site. Cookie deprecation will diminish the effectiveness of retargeting campaigns and limit the ability to redirect traffic to a preferred site.
  • Audience extension– This tactic, similar to lookalike targeting, will no longer be possible without third-party cookies to help marketers find similar audiences across the Internet.
  • Frequency capping– Cookie deprecation will reduce media efficiency because advertisers will no longer be able to limit the number of times an ad is shown to a particular user.

Perhaps worst of all, no more cookies means no more view-through attribution to help marketers gauge the performance of their marketing mix. Without view-through attribution, marketers are spending in the dark with little to no visibility into the most effective channels and campaigns.

After the cookie crumbles: Managing the change

The bad news for marketers is that there are a lot of unknowns with a cookieless future. The good news is there is plenty of time to explore your options and develop a new strategy to avoid disruption. A few things to consider:

The coming cookieless future presents new challenges for marketers, but new, ethical options like Cardlytics’ first-party Purchase Intelligence™ are emerging to help bridge the gap. Ultimately, cookie deprecation presents an opportunity for brands to take the lead by giving customers an experience built on trust and transparency.

1. Focus on amplifying your first-party data

Implement robust first-party data collection mechanisms so you can target and personalize campaigns for users who have already engaged with your brand. Make sure your data collection is fully compliant with any applicable laws and communicate clearly with your customers about what information you are collecting and how you will use it. Consent-based data collection is no longer simply a legislative and regulatory imperative, it’s a way brands can gain trust with their customers.

2. Explore the walled gardens

With the death of third-party cookies, the aggregate but highly granular data collected from logged-in users by Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Cardlytics offer an alternative way for marketers to run highly targeted campaigns.

3. Rethink contextual targeting

Today’s contextual targeting is highly sophisticated and delivers results on par with cookie-based campaigns. Contextual targeting uses natural language processing and machine learning to go beyond keywords to the sentiment behind every webpage. The most robust contextual targeting solutions analyze a brand’s first-party data to uncover commerce signals and place ads on pages that are similar to the pages a customer visited before they made a purchase.

4. Watch for new sources of audiences

Google recently announced that they are scrapping the Federated Learning of Cohorts project meant to replace third-party cookies. In its place is the new Topics system, which assigns each user’s specific interests from a pool of 300 possible topics. Google says Topics will be more transparent and less susceptible to privacy abuses. Whether or not it will be an effective way to personalize ads is still up for debate. However, it stands to reason that more of these ‘clean’ third-party audiences will emerge between now and 2023.

The coming cookieless future presents new challenges for marketers, but options like Cardlytics’ first-party Purchase Intelligence™ have emerged to help bridge the gap. Ultimately, cookie deprecation presents an opportunity for brands to take the lead by giving customers an experience built on trust and transparency.

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