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Targeting and transparency: Marketing privacy-forward advertising

Doug Sevenson explores new solutions for today’s marketers and how they can optimize their privacy-forward advertising performance as the third-party cookie slowly crumbles.

5 min read

Digital TechnologyMarketing

Targeting and transparency: Marketing privacy-forward advertising

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John Wanamaker’s famous quote: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half,” is in need of an update. 

For some advertisers, it could be as high as 80% of my advertising is wasted, given the dismal match rates of third-party cookies. The headlines touting the final demise of this technology are everywhere, but few seem to realize that third-party cookies are already effectively dead. 

With the release of iOS 14.5 last year, Apple began implementing features to prohibit third-party tracking. Android will be implementing this feature in the near future. Safari and Firefox already block third-cookies, so by the end of 2024, Google will simply be the final nail in the coffin when Chrome blocks user IDs for third-party vendors. 

It’s time to face the facts: the third-party cookie has crumbled. Cookie-matching is already ineffective. While not entirely eradicated, this makes it clear that third-party cookies now lack the data to work effectively. And while these cookies may have been convenient, the digital supply chain has been notoriously difficult to trace.

Transparency is a hot-button issue in the industry, and a recent study looking into the digital supply chain found that 76% of advertisers are not confident or satisfied with its current levels. Yet, many continue to use this opaque system because they are unsure of what else to use in its place.

Crumble the cookies 

If you haven’t started, the time is NOW to phase out your third-party cookies. There is little sense in waiting for the final death knell before abandoning a technology that is already providing such diminished returns. 

However, analyzing where your audience-based campaigns have run should be taken into account when considering how to get your messaging in front of your brand’s intended audience. As marketers determine a new strategy, what are ways that post-bid reporting can set you up for a “passing of the baton”?

Take the time to really understand where your consumers are spending time within the digital landscape. What can the cookies that previously followed them around the web tell you about their interests? And how will your business be able to market to those interests without them? 

While third-party cookies have been a dominant force in advertising for years, there are a number of technological alternatives that can deliver relevant privacy-forward advertising and drive site conversions.

Change the signal 

Plenty of advertising technologies focus on more privacy-forward solutions. Contextual advertising has evolved into a more granular targeting solution, and can now allow for targeting based on dynamic phrases and custom taxonomies that are relevant to your campaign, as well as the world at large. By delivering ads that align contextually with a page’s content, brands are also often perceived by consumers as less obtrusive. 

Using these options won’t only help you to find new ways of growing your audience — it will signal that your business is prepared to address privacy concerns going forward. 

First-party data is another privacy-forward option for marketers to consider. Unlike third-party cookies, this data is part of an exchange — consumers give it to you in exchange for an efficient and personalized site experience. In an era of increasing privacy regulations, having a consumer’s explicit permission to gather and store their data is increasingly valuable.

In addition, the data that you gather will be personalized towards your brand, rather than more generalized third-party information. This can help you to develop an ongoing and highly-profitable relationship with your existing customers. 

So, which option will work best for your brand? 

That depends on what you are looking to achieve. For example, if you are looking to spread awareness about a new product or service, you may use contextual intelligence as your guide on where to place ads based on where your audience spends time.

If you are looking to connect with current consumers or encourage repeat purchases, investing in first-party data and beginning a personal database of consumer information may be the best place to start. The savviest marketers can find ways to combine these options, covering the breadth of their consumer base. 

Analyze the data 

When preparing for a transitory stage, it is important to take the time to monitor your campaigns after they are live. Having wide coverage is no longer an adequate substitute for strategic adaptability. Monitoring where a campaign goes when it is released needs to become common practice. 

One option is to conduct a post-bid audit, to see which domains your advertising ended up on. Look into the URLs — are they appropriate for the audience you’re looking to attract? These domains can additionally be sorted into categories, to draft a rough percentage of which types of domains your advertising is matching with. This will allow you to build a list of successful domains for future campaigns. 

When looking to measure a campaign’s success, keep this advice from Peter Drucker in mind: “What you measure matters.” Before an audit or other measurement activity, consider where you would like to see performance improvements. 

These insights, along with the data utilized from your metrics can help to guide you to the best marketing practice for your business going forward. 

Adapt your strategy

The crumbled third-party cookie is not the be-all end-all of targeted online advertising. There are a number of options that are more privacy-focused, and can safeguard your brand from negative associations. By analyzing the placement and success of third-party cookie campaigns and other means of advertising, marketers can feel prepared to adjust their strategies and enter into the next phase of privacy-forward advertising with confidence.   


Doug Stevenson is the co-founder and CEO of Vibrant Media. He has over 25 years of experience across the publishing and media landscape. Previously, Doug has worked with brands such as AOL, CompuServe and BBC Magazines.


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