Growing consumer expectations of privacy mean that we are moving away from cookies as a means of tracking users and instead, transitioning towards opt-in methods and consumer consent. We have seen this most recently in the iOS 14 update which requires consumers to opt in to share their data with apps. Those who do not explicitly give permission to be tracked, won’t be. 

Cookies and Social Media

Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon have the biggest first-party data sets in the world and here lies the problem for marketers. Cookies are incredibly useful because they help advertisers track users across sessions, attribute sales to ad clicks, retarget, build lookalike seed pools and exclude purchasers; a whole wealth of targeting and optimisation in fact is driven by cookies. Without cookies, how do you know whether the money you spent on your Facebook ads for example was well spent? Or if more of your sales actually originate on Instagram?

Facebook’s own cookie policy clearly outlines the usefulness of cookies and how intrinsic they are to the social media ads ecosystem, explaining:

  • We use cookies to help us show ads and to make recommendations for businesses and other organisations to people who may be interested in the products, services or causes they promote.
  • We also use cookies to help measure the performance of ad campaigns for businesses that use the Facebook Products.
  • Cookies help us serve and measure ads across different browsers and devices used by the same person.
  • Cookies also allow us to provide insights about the people who use the Facebook Products, as well as the people who interact with the ads, websites and apps of our advertisers and the businesses that use the Facebook Products.

Timeline for change

  • 2019 – Safari rolls out ITP 2.3 to severely limit the use of cookies
  • 2020 – Google announces that it will end the use of third-party cookies within two years
  • 2021 – Apple requires all apps to ask users for permission to track their activity with the launch of iOS 14

Effect on advertisers

With Chrome and other browsers phasing out the use of cookies and platforms bowing to calls for greater transparency and opt-in measures, it looks set to be much harder for advertisers and brands to identify users, follow them across their online journeys, measure attribution and target by behaviour and interest.

Safari limits cookie tracking to just seven days; a timeframe that will be too short to offer up meaningful data for many social media advertisers. Should a conversion happen on day eight after a social media ad click for example, the advertiser will not be able to trace that click back to their ad spend, throwing ROI measurements out.

Retargeting audiences will also disappear after just one week, with lookalike audiences also likely to be smaller and weaker due to the time constraint for tracking.

Advertisers who place a greater emphasis on mobile ads or in-app advertising may not be as hampered up front by the changes, given cookies don’t tend to work with mobile devices anyway.

People-based targeting, where the user is identified, not the data, is widely expected to be of much greater importance to advertisers. It’s especially useful for those advertising on social media, given Facebook was an early pioneer in this space. This approach means advertisers will need to devise a means of identifying a customer no matter the device or channel they use, or swap to, within their customer journey.

The data generated by customers will also be more valuable to advertisers, especially those taking an owned-data first approach. Being able to collect and analyse information such as purchase habits and engagement with marketing communications can be used to refine targeting.

Having this singular view of a customer can also give advertisers in-built efficiencies by opening up opportunities to replace human effort with automation.

Effect on SMEs

Smaller companies with smaller ad budgets will likely find that it takes much longer to understand the impact of their ads and graduate from the learning phase. It’s probable that it will result in underperforming ad campaigns, which could see limited budgets being wasted.

SMEs may also find a people-based approach much harder to get off the ground, especially if their owned data pool is comparatively small.

Effect on larger companies

Larger social media advertisers with bigger budgets will face the same problems as all advertisers in that it will be more difficult to measure attribution and more challenging to target users.

That said, a bigger budget should allow for greater agility and the faster implantation of measures to mitigate against tracking limitations.

Effect on marketing agencies

Adrac is taking a range of measures to limit the impact of the cookieless world on client campaigns. For social media advertisers we are actively encouraging:

  • The collection of email addresses from customers (creating a subscription list)
  • Sharpening the target audience through data already collected and not relying as much on pixel data
  • Staying on top of custom audiences and continually updating those audiences
  • Designing and implementing social media creative that the target audience really wants to see
  • Placing an increased emphasis on Interest selection
  • Ensure the unified attribution setting is enabled when creating reports to safeguard data accuracy and pull in iOS14 data

Author Rebecca

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