Hands off the cookie jar: the future of targeting as restrictions on data tighten

Marketers must be prepared to either invest in the tech and talent to manage it in-house or else partner with those that can.

The recent moves by Google, Apple and Mozilla to block third-party cookie targeting will force marketers to work harder to reach consumers using data.

Since the dawn of digital advertising, data has played an increasingly pivotal part in realising the promise of reaching the right person with the right ad at the right time. Steps by both regulators and consumer tech giants will limit the use of third-party data, which has forced marketers to return to find new targeting routes.

What's forced the tech giants to act?

Google will start asking sites to identify whether a cookie will be used for login or tracking and will make it harder for third parties to use cookies to track consumers by providing Internet users with tools to automatically delete cookie data.

Similarly, Mozilla will give users the option to toggle between tracking blocking settings from the default setting of ‘standard’ to ‘strict’.

For Apple, which browser already blocks nearly all third-party trackers by default, went one step further by announcing in early June that it will take a privacy-first customer approach by introducing ‘Sign in with Apple’, creating a random and anonymized email address for each user that forwards to that user's actual email address, allowing users to hide their email addresses from apps.

So what?

A crackdown on third-party cookie targeting will result in a strong shift by marketers to working with first-party data either directly or with supply partners that have or can provide them with easy access to it, explains Gai Le Roy, the chief executive of IAB Australia.

“These shifts will mean other identifiers are required and the IAB has done a lot of work on IFA’s (Identifier for Advertising) over the past couple of years, including standards for audiences accessing OTT content in-app via streaming devices, Smart TVs, Blu-ray devices and/or video game consoles,” she says.

“The third-party cookie changes will provide challenges for many current attribution models but hopefully, over time it will improve the way we look at overall digital advertising activity (and actually all ad activity) to be less focussed on cookie history from one device and be more holistic about the impact of the overall marketer’s media spend.”

Henry Shelley, the general manager for South East Asia at The Trade Desk notes that the demand-side platform has always believed that privacy and good advertising do not have to be at odds with each other, and feels that giving users more control is a step in the right direction for the industry.

“We fully support bringing greater transparency to the advertising ecosystem by giving users more visibility and choice. With this approach, the industry can continue operating effectively, while respecting user privacy,” he adds.

From a strategy perspective, Ranganathan Somanathan, the chief executive officer for Singapore and Malaysia at Omnicom Media Group, believes it will become a tough ask to set frequency caps as well as implement retargeting strategies in a post-cookie era.

“This the outcome of how people feel about respecting their privacy. These platforms and regulators are both driving initiatives to deliver against this sentiment,” he says.

“It will have an impact on the programmatic ecosystem as it relies on third-party cookies for targeting, thereby restricting the ability of marketers to deliver relevant messages to ‘individuals’ and measure the effectiveness of their programmatic campaigns.”

What should marketers do?

Marketers who rely on third-party cookies in APAC will need to build up their first-party data collection, organization, and activation capabilities for desktop and mobile to serve consumers with relevant messages and ads.

This means they need to ensure they are working with adtech platforms like Lotame, The Trade Desk and Quantcast, for example, so that they can inter-operate at scale in first-party cookie environments.

“This requires an ability to leverage ID and device graphs to connect first-party cookie data segments with adtech/martech ecosystem platforms (e.g., DSPs, attribution platforms) that typically leverage third-party cookies,” explains Adam Solomon, the chief marketing officer at Lotame.

The Trade Desk is already doing this, says Shelley, as it is investing heavily in new identity solutions, for both cookie and cookieless environments because it is important to keep innovating so that marketers can strike the correct balance between relevance and privacy.

Quantcast, meanwhile, says it is founded on the principles of privacy-by-design and it takes the issue of data privacy very seriously. "This has proven to be an advantage for the platform and its clients when it comes to responding to the evolving data privacy landscape," explains Andrew Double, the managing director for APAC at Quantcast.

The alternative to working with adtech platforms is that marketers must be prepared to either invest in the tech and talent to manage it in-house, explains Le Roy, who observes there has been a recent increase in investment by agency holding groups in technology.

“The talent required will need to not only be tech focussed but people who understand the privacy landscape as well as having a strong understanding of building strong and transparent data relationships with their customers and potential customers,” she says.

Somanathan says going back to basic principles of communications planning of getting consumers’ attention is key, as, in a post-cookie world, marketers must get smarter with content and context-based targeting to be able to win that prized attention.

This means marketers will have to curate more contextual data around behaviours and develop messaging that leverages the context in creating meaningful engagements, he explains. “We will have to explore and learn by using native ads, curated video environments and good old branded content to connect with our audience.”

‘Zero-party data’

Zero party data, which is data that customers willingly share with marketers like purchase desires and preferences through interactive experiences like subscriptions, loyalty programs and contests, has been touted as the solution for marketers to rebuild trust and engender lasting and meaningful connections with consumers.

This is because it is typically high quality and accurate data that can be used as a value exchange for customers.

For example, if a clothing brand has heard from their customers that 80% of them want more of a certain style, they can use this information to develop new products their customers will be happy to purchase. This creates a win-win solution for the brand and its customers.

Zero party data can also be incorporated and combined with marketers’ first-party data for an even richer view of the customer, explains Solomon.

“Marketers in APAC can move towards zero-party data and building direct relationships with consumers in various ways, such as collecting information through subscription programs (similar to how DTC brands have been operating),” he says.

“They can also send polls or surveys to existing customers in exchange for discounts, create loyalty programs for loyal customers and collecting feedback through the program opt-in. Offering giveaways and contests where the customer has to provide information in order to enter, as well as promoting social stories, which could include questions or polls are also possible.”

There is also the Unified ID solution, created by The Trade Desk, which involves giving away the platform’s cookie identifier for free to adtech players in the ecosystem as an open standard. This helps improve the efficiency and performance of the entire ad-funded internet, says Shelly.

He explains that with Unified ID, match rates (or ad dollars) are improved, giving advertisers more effective targeting and the number of syncs taking place in the ecosystem are massively reduced. This ultimately results in giving consumers a better ad experience.

“The largest independent supply-side platforms in the world are seeing match rates with us of up to 99%. Our ambition is that our unified open ID becomes a common currency for the open Internet,” he adds.

Ultimately, marketers should start asking questions like “Will having data really enhance my consumer communications, targeting or product offerings?”. Often the answer will be and should be yes, but yes won’t always be the answer, says Le Roy.

“When data is needed it actually provides exciting and intellectually stimulating challenges for marketers and this area is ripe for development by bringing together adtech experts and traditional brand marketers,” she explains.

“Developing clear consumer messages in an appropriate brand tone that can be delivered or built into product offerings is a lot harder than it sounds.”

The topic of what marketers should do with cookies is not new, with The Drum covering the issue as far back as seven years ago. As the world marks the 25th anniversary of the first ever banner in 2019, it seems the industry is finally moving in the right direction.

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