9 Answers to Your Burning Cookieless Questions

People want answers. At the end of our recent Preparing for a Cookieless Future: Now What? webinar, our audience asked a lot of questions during the Q&A session about the deprecation of the third-party cookie and what the post-cookie future holds. Our Client Strategy Director Lindsay Boeddeker and our Future of Identity Expert Amanda Martin took them all on, and here’s how they responded.

1. How would you see alternate addressable platforms (aka The Trade Desk and LiveRamp) impacting this upcoming change?

Amanda Martin: I think they’re impacting it in the sense that they’re truly trying to participate and vet what an acceptable addressable alternative would be. They didn’t allow Google to take away the third-party cookie. It’s important we push with Google on the changes and with the partners outside of Google and work together. The reason we have this delay and didn’t have this end-of-the-year “sky is falling” situation is because of these alternative addressable platforms, and that’s why competition in the space is really important, and buyers can support that competition by spending across multiple platforms.

2. Any insights on how to gather all the key performance indicators (KPIs) without cookies?

Amanda Martin: I think the key is some of the KPIs are truly vanity metrics and are tied just to the ecosystem we’re in. They don’t actually relate to or speak to any of the business KPIs that we track. So I don’t think we’re going to be able to replicate every KPI that exists today.

What I love about the delay is we’ll be able to test new metrics without losing our old metrics. Being able to compare when your current KPIs go up and down and what future-proof KPIs fluctuate, what that relationship is, that’s the most telling piece.

Some of the KPIs will be recreated with offline data or with clean room aggregated insights, so it’s not clear-cut, this is your cost per action (CPA), this is your aggregate lift of those two purchases or this is the tracking of your spend and where we can attribute it.

But I do think we’ll have to say goodbye to the vanity KPIs that some of our programmatic buys have relied on for a long time.

I also think that allows us to acknowledge that programmatic isn’t actually a medium, it’s a way of buying things. So the way you buy things shouldn’t have a KPI. The media you buy should have KPIs, and the business that you run should have KPIs. So I don’t think we’ll have 1×1 on all KPI metrics, but I think if you’re tracking existing KPIs with new future-proof KPIs, you’ll be able to know how to read the new signals before you lose the old signals.

Lindsay Boeddeker: I think it will be a welcome change too because how many times have we seen deduped or duplicated attribution? So Facebook is going to take the credit for conversion. Google is going to take the credit on a last-ad-seen or last-click model, which is tracked on that cookie level.

3. How do you reset performance expectations moving forward? New benchmarks moving forward?

Lindsay Boeddeker: So the benchmarks are assessing different changes in dips and flows as this kind of awkwardly transitions out. When are you seeing lift across which medium channel versus how you’re buying it?

 I would say really pushing toward those incrementality models, looking at brand lift, looking at sales lift, looking at cross-channel lift in a certain setting where you can compare apples to apples versus apples to oranges. That’s going to be really smart.

I think as sophisticated marketers, we have moved away from click-through rate and clicks as vanity metrics, but where we still get stuck is, what were the total sales and conversions from Facebook or Google?

Now it’s a different story. How do we look at overall sales? How do we look at overall lift and impact from advertising as a whole versus trying to get ticky-tacky within the specific channels and buying methods?

4. Do you feel the goal of 1×1 addressable media contradicts the consumer’s desire for enhanced privacy?

Amanda Martin: So I think this is where we acknowledge that we’re not looking for addressability at 100% scale, which cookies falsely gave us with recognizing individuals.

I think it’s where the consumer values the relationship to allow for the addressability we’re seeking, so that’s going to be a smaller percentage of how we execute media. But I think what we’re looking to do is to remove the “how did they know I put those shoes in that cart?” and “why is that dress I looked at yesterday following me around the internet today?”

I think the way we solve that is by increasing the relationship that advertising has, and if the advertising experience is worthwhile and fulfilling and respectful, I think consumers don’t have an issue with sharing their privacy. It’s when it isn’t that great.

One of the benefits you see from an Instagram or Facebook or now a TikTok is that it’s a really good advertising experience, so if we can work on increasing the advertising experience so consumers value it, I think we can get more addressable.

But I do agree. We’re not looking to recreate100% addressability. I think that’s what we’re respecting. I’m a subscriber to The New York Times, and I trust The New York Times to have that relationship with me. So I’m OK with it using my information to give me relevant ads. But I do expect a level of ad experience that warrants that personally identifiable information (PII) that I’ve given it. I think that’s the shift we’re looking for, that’s the needle we’re looking to thread, not just to create an alternative that does exactly what the third-party cookie does.

5. Are tracking pixels effective as well?

Lindsay Boeddeker: So right now, it’s a little bit of a dance. I’d say the information we’re getting from the pixels, that’s what’s being affected. The pixels themselves are still being placed. They’re still driving data. They’re still right now giving us information and tracking certain things. The data we’re getting back is changing, especially with Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) impacts like we talked about – social impacts and mobile app activity and cookieless environments. So yes, overall, the data we’re seeing back from them is changing, and we’re gaining learnings from them and trying to test and learn and apply toward the future. My hunch is that pixels will be very different in the future in terms of where they can be placed versus website activity versus tracking activity. That has been yet to set in stone, but something we have a pulse on as well.

Amanda Martin: I think the key is that first-party pixels aren’t going away. So the pixels you place on your owned and operated property, you’ll still be able to gather that information. I think it’s the information you used to be able to gather across domains, for instance, when you could tell where someone had come from or where someone went. That’s what Apple’s ITP protocol is blocking, and that’s what cookies enabled and what will eventually be disabled. So the key is, if it’s happening within your website, within your own walled garden, it’s happening there and it’s your own, then it exists still. When you had insights outside of your own area, that is going to get more deprecated as we go on.

6. Safari, Firefox – no third-party cookie browsers – what is holding back clients from transacting on new IDs there today? Low adoption and reach? Better than nothing?

Amanda Martin: I think the reason why there’s low adoption is because cookies are the fuel of every demand-side platform (DSP) right now. So when a DSP can recognize someone, and the most prominent way to recognize someone is a third-party cookie, that gets prioritized in the sense of impressions that go out for bid. That’s because they’re the most revenue-driving for the buy side and the sell side, in the sense that if you know who you’re advertising to or you think you know who you’re advertising to, and we put the most value on those impressions from a buy side, and the sell side puts the most value on them. That’s probably what’s slowing down adoption.

The other truth is if you’re not intentionally buying Safari and FireFox, you’re probably not buying Safari and FireFox. It’s because they don’t have the identifier. Their impressions are just being deprioritized by most platforms. But there’s a huge opportunity: There’s lift on the buy side to activate there. And scale-wise, it’s smaller. It’s already a smaller ecosystem, and then it’s a smaller addressable universe, but I think it’s worth testing and learning; that’s your A/B test: Safari and FireFox versus Chrome. We have some great advertisers that are pursuing those types of tests, and we would love to see more. But I think the key is the expectation of scale is not there. But it’s better than nothing, and you’re not advertising there right now unless you’re intentionally advertising there.

7. Will Google Analytics (GA) still be able to track some information like demographics or devices people are viewing from?

Amanda Martin: Yes and no, depends on what browser they’re on, what device they’re on, what information will be fed back to Google. Again, Google does control the largest browser-based consumption in both mobile and desktop. So with that being said, I think you’ll notice things like if you’re an active Chrome user, you’ll now get asked to log in with your account, your Gmail account, so they know who you are.

Think of Chrome as an owned and operated property of Google. So I think GA will be fueled with signals in the owned and operated ecosystem that Google has from the browser if they truly treat it like an owned and operated property, but there will be blind spots because Safari and FireFox aren’t sending those signals.

But I don’t think that changes much from what’s happening today in that regard.

8. How are you articulating and preparing brands as this identity transition comes to life? (For example, you can have different conversations with existing clients, but new clients or prospects, you don’t have those insights or relationship — what does that conversation look like?)

Lindsay Boeddeker: I think it’s smart to be very proactive right now. We still have third-party data segments to put into plans and campaigns and use as targeting. We still have cookies today. This is changing. This will change. You don’t want to be caught not prepared for this.

So I think every client, prospect and marketer should know what’s coming down the pipe, and what that will look like if you take them on as a new client. That relationship is going to change, and you want to grow with them and grow them and pull them up in that process.

So for example, these conversations can look like anything from we’re given an RFP, and I come back and say what we’re doing in the cookieless space, what our identity alternatives look like and how we’re addressing it. I get that question a lot on new business proposals and new pitches.

The other piece is they haven’t asked about it; they have no idea. That’s when I give a very high-level view: This is what’s happening currently, this is what we have available today, this is what the future looks like, here’s where I think you need to be based on your business, your goals, your audience, where you’re running media, but also five years down the road, where you could be. And being very proactive in that sense has been helpful for clients because they haven’t thought of that but more so don’t know how to even approach it or get there.

Amanda Martin: Now that you have tangible things you can test and use, it’s also about presenting those opportunities plainly to brands and advertisers. It doesn’t have to be a fully baked client experience. There are ways to test one-off capabilities with new providers or new advertising agencies. So that’s where we’ve started to transition, started to bring that solution into that pre-relationship conversation because we can’t wait until we’ve solidified our relationship. Everything’s going great in the current ecosystem and then we tell you about everything that’s going to need to change. And we’re starting those conversations really early. Now that we have more tangible things to test and utilize, it’s getting easier than say a year and a half ago when we were still talking about hypotheses.     

9. How do clean rooms work?

Amanda Martin: I’m not on our data science and analytics team, so they’ll probably cringe while I explain it, but as someone who navigates the industry and has to at least understand it enough to break it, data clean rooms are basically a neutral zone.

As an advertiser, you have first-party data that you can contribute to the neutral zone, but you’re never allowed to take data out of the clean room that you don’t own, and then a publisher or third-party data provider can bring insights into the neutral zone.

You can then meld it together; play around with it. And what you can take out is, you can take out aggregate learnings. So you can’t take out that Lindsay bought a specific item on a specific website after she went to The New York Times, but what you can take out is this subset of users all had the same action that you manipulated the data to, and then you can take that segment out and target it.

Or you can take those learnings and turn them into measurement insights if you drove this much incremental lift by the addition of say, CTV, on top of your display advertising.

So the key is it’s 1×1 information in but never 1×1 information out. So each party maintains its data privacy and its consent mechanisms with the user, but insights can be derived, and aggregated actions can happen from it. For us non-technical folks, it’s a little bit of magic, but they’re usually SQL-based, and it’s usually about playing with data at high aggregate levels as opposed to line-by-line levels.

How Clean Rooms Work Infographic

Still have cookieless questions? Visit our comprehensive identity hub on our website now for all our expert guides, POVs, infographics and more – everything you need to go cookieless, all free to download and updated all the time. Or feel free to reach out with any cookieless questions and ask us; we’ll get you the answers you’re seeking so you can start securing your cookieless future.