Cookie Rejection and What it Means for Advertisers

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What is cookie rejection? And what does it mean for advertisers? From the limitations of cookie-based measurement to finding alternatives, learn more.


Cookie Rejection and What it Means for Advertisers

With the end of third-party cookies on the horizon, the importance of first-party cookies is growing. ‘The Four’ (Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple) currently have the biggest first-party cookie data sets in the world. With their heavy reliance on accounts, subscriptions and purchases, they have dominated overall market shares for the last few years. These tech giants are the walled gardens of advertising technology, and they remain the biggest challenge to advertisers without third-party cookies.


Why is this happening?

Since the announcement that third-party cookies will be removed from internet browsers, we have seen some of the biggest browsers slowly implementing these changes. Safari removed cookies in 2017, with Firefox doing the same in 2019 and Chrome planning to step away from cookies before the end of 2021.

The digital era was meant to ensure transparency and certainty for marketing measurement, enabling advertisers to evaluate and optimise their media spend. In recent years, programmatic advertising has become crucial to this approach; however, of the many digital measurement issues we face today, at the forefront remains the continued reliance upon cookies for targeting and measurement. Cookies are inherently unstable, yet they still make up the backbone of digital measurement.


The limitations of cookie-based measurement

A study by Flashtalking in 2017 found the following for a typical advertiser:

Consequently, a reliance on cookies leads to a 36% decrease in reported return on ad spend (ROAS) – and there we can see the true limitation. If we can’t report accurately on upper funnel activity, then how can advertisers make the case for its importance in digital marketing strategies?


What is cookie rejection?

Back in 2017, Safari led the way with removing third-party cookies. Cookie rejection occurs when browsers block a cookie being placed, or they delete it afterwards. This has mainly been driven by consumer awareness of tracking, and an increase in privacy concerns.

Such concerns are having a major impact on advertising for the reasons mentioned earlier in this article. Impressions for a click are lost, and while Google released an impression-based beta to provide advertisers with a degree of visibility on the impact impressions are having on their conversions, data has become more and more fragmented over the last 18 months.

Don’t get me wrong – when a cookie works, it works! Cookies are, of course, valuable for providing a connected view of user interactions:

So how does cookie rejection negatively impact advertisers?

  1. Wasted spend. The understatement of metrics in reporting leads directly to wasted spend, as the likelihood is that ads are serving twice as much as we think.
  2. Missed sales opportunities. The value of media is impacted, and therefore limits our ability to reach prospects and drive new conversions.
  3. Blind spending. As cookie rejection obscures the path to conversion, limiting our reliance on data and therefore resulting in us relying on intuition, media under-performs.

Consequently, we are looking for cookie alternatives for multi-channel tracking and measurement, as well as better mechanisms to collect our own first-party data. These alternatives will enable us to measure delivery and results at every stage of the funnel. By evaluating metrics that accurately reflect performance, marketers can make better decisions on channel allocation and creative development, therefore driving a greater ROAS.


What does this mean for advertisers?

As marketers, we are moving away from a focus on cookie-based audience data towards a focus on user experience and behaviour. Though cookies have served as a crutch for many years, we need to become smarter in our approach. Cookies not only slow down websites, but they are also unreliable and impact the customer experience they are meant to improve. Users want a seamless, personalised experience, but cookies prevent this experience from happening. Looking ahead, I recommend four key areas to focus on:

  1. Creativity. Eye-catching visuals and messaging have never been more important. Users want to self-identify with brands and buy into them. If your message is compelling enough, you'll achieve this.
  2. Contextual Targeting. Old formats will be making a return – most importantly theme-based targeting. As users, we typically sit across many audience verticals; for example, looking to buy a house, recently married, likes to shop in luxury stores, and so on. You’ll be able to drive personalised creative for users with intent without them being identifiable.
  3. Cookieless Tracking. Invest in an alternative. This is going to be available at ClickThrough Marketing shortly, but if you don’t work with us, there are a lot of ad tech firms releasing cookieless options now. It’s likely that Google will release their own, too, so keep an eye out.
  4. First-Party Data. Grow your own audiences. The risk is that the search ecosystem will become a maze of login pages. So, think about how you can grow subscribers, customers who are engaged and returning, and a hyper-personalised advertising strategy - customers love to experience!

Final comments…

The main message I have is that we will be okay. Yes, there are a lot of changes and uncertainty right now, but we will have more control in the long run. We will be in a position to expand our partnerships and strategies to drive better performance, evaluation and measurement to inform future growth.

Over the last year, ClickThrough Marketing has been committed to developing a roadmap to building an enterprise identity solution that’s designed to meet the expectations of customers today, and in the future. Through our extensive technology partnerships, we believe we are almost there, and will soon be able to offer a solution for our current and future clients.


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If you would like to find out more about anything discussed in this article, get in touch with our experts today.

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