Cookies are all anyone can talk about in the digital space and for good reason – everything we know about data and tracking is about to change. 

Currently we use cookies to track user journeys and gather data that informs our reporting on how ads or websites are performing. 

However, Google, Apple and other big tech players are largely setting the pace of the marketing industry today and moving towards a world where individuals’ privacy should be better respected. Therefore, in the future, tracking technologies like cookies will become obsolete. 

We are already seeing this shift thanks to the ‘triple cookie restriction’. Cookies and other available trackers are under attack from:

  1. Legal – GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and upcoming e-privacy.
  2. Technical – browsers and operating systems e.g. Safari fully blocking 3rd party cookies.
  3. Behavioural – use of ad blockers and cookie notice blockers

This has already had a huge impact on data collection. Cookies and other tracker restrictions, as well as increasingly enclosed walled gardens, make it more difficult to get global, consistent, and reliable online marketing measurement, instead resulting in data gaps and biases.

Post-cookie data gaps and biases: 

  1. Volume –  The number of direct audiences and data volume will be reduced by each of the three cookie restrictions.
  2. Trust – The variety of situations impacted lead to an unknown and almost random quality, significance, and depth of the collected data.
  3. Precision – Insights will become less granular and more high-level
  4. Extent – Data will be scattered with greater risks of overlaps

Where are we with post-cookie solutions?

The progressive end of the third party cookies has had a few short term impacts, including the deterioration of retargeting and display capping. There are currently three solutions in progress, but how sustainable are they in the long run?

  1. First Party Cookies – Safe for now but could undergo further restrictions in the future.
  2. Universal ID Initiatives – These will need to attain critical volume to succeed. Their objective is to have publishers convince enough users to log in and to be able to federate this data efficiently and safely. The Trade Desk has also come across issues with GDPR compliance.
  3. Cohorts/Aggregated Data – Privacy Sandbox faces delays in Europe with issues around privacy compliance and anti competitiveness.

How will this affect the way we buy digital ads? 

  • Supply Side Platforms (SSPs) – Relatively unaffected in its primary goal of aggregating publisher inventory and selling them on ad exchanges. 
  • Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) – Will eventually need to integrate with post-cookie landscape such as Privacy Sandbox, alternate IDs, revamped contextual targeting, and so on. Some DSPs already have existing capabilities to leverage ‘Identity Initiatives’ such as Tradedesk & Universal ID.
  • Google Ads, Facebook, Amazon – Becoming more indispensable as they offer exclusive people based user data within their respective proprietary environments. Marketers can leverage their existing platform features such as Google Ads Store Sales Direct, Customer Match, Enhanced Conversions and Facebook Conversions API.

However, it is not only digital and programmatic buying that has been impacted by the shift towards a cookie-less world, but organic marketing too. 

How to report in a cookie-less world?

Due to GDPR restrictions, we can no longer track users who do not consent to cookies. This has had an impact on accurately measuring web analytics. For example, if 80% of your users do not consent to using cookies, then a large portion of your traffic will go under reported. 

However, that’s what Google Analytics 4 was designed for. Its machine learning capabilities can fill in the gaps for users who do not consent to cookies, to give you a better measurement of your web performance. 

Read more about GA4 in our beginner’s guide. 

In conclusion, the journey towards a cookie-less world is an inevitable one that all marketers must take. As importance shifts towards privacy, the way we collect and analyse user data will dramatically change. However, we knew this day was coming, with leading tech and media companies armed with the solutions to make this journey as smooth as possible. The way we report and optimise campaigns may slightly differ, but the data informed insights shall remain, just collected in a different, post-cookie, GDPR compliant way.

Total Media, the behavioural planning agency, are experts in data-led media planning and buying. Contact Guillermo Dvorak, Head of Digital, for more information on how our digital teams are navigating a cookieless world.

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Guillermo Dvorak - Head of Digital

Author:Guillermo Dvorak - Head of Digital

Guillermo considers himself a tech nerd and has over 10 years’ experience in digital media planning &buying across multiple industries, helping brands develop their digital maturity to improve customer engagement and lifetime value.