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What Media Buying Will Look Like in a Cookie-Less World

first-party data media buying privacy Jan 13, 2023

 As tech giants like Google, Apple, and Firefox make changes to respond to audience demand for privacy, one of the biggest shifts will be their elimination of third-party cookies.

What Are Cookies?

As background, cookies are what allow us to customize digital experiences. There are two types: first-party and third-party. 

First-party cookies allow us to collect information about our audiences based on what they tell us, usually by inputting form data or frequenting your site while in a logged-in state. Assuming your privacy terms are clear when audiences volunteer this information, it’s considered consented. 

By comparison, third-party cookies track users across multiple domains, allowing marketers to understand the nuance of audience interests and target audiences on subsequent sites they visit. Third-party cookies are considered not consented and are therefore being eliminated by Big Tech companies.

The loss of cookies will mean less efficiency in your marketing efforts, given that algorithmic learning will be slower due to fewer audience behavior insights being available to advertising tools. It will also mean that some of the information you were previously able to view in your analytics tools will no longer be available – such as insights regarding all of the touchpoints that lead up to a person’s decision to convert.

Advertising in a Cookie-Less World

The important thing marketers will need to understand is that you’ll need to be very aware of: 1) how you are releasing audience data to third parties and 2) how the audience data that you’re ingesting from third parties was collected. 

Your focus should be on acquiring first-party, consented data and building your short- and long-term plans to support that. Pragmatically, that will look like:

  • Building great content that can be distributed from audience-trusted sources – like corporate partners – so you get in front of their first-party audiences
  • Optimizing your content so it’s visible organically through search engine results, and
  • Crafting smart editorial strategies to give audiences a reason to fill out forms, surveys, and other response devices that allow you to understand who they are

Once cookies are eliminated, driving audiences to this great content via paid media will be less efficient, as mentioned, so you should test now to scale later.

Contextual advertising

Contextual advertising will gain a new life in this cookieless world. In context targeting, advertising is placed based on the content of a website. This option has always been available and performed well in early advertising days before cookies changed the efficiency game.

That said, you should start with an audit of your file to gather insights you already have about audience behaviors, preferences, profiles, and conversion paths. With that information in hand, pick publishing outlets from whom you could buy 1:1 ad space. You’ll be able to pick outlets that align with the insights you have and also inform publishers about the kind of content you want them to place your ads alongside. Test those placements now to know what to scale later.

You can also use contextual targeting in your paid search ads via Google.

First-party audience bundles

In future years, we’re likely to see more and more outlets like Disney release bundled first-party audience data that you can license for ad-serving to expand your reach. (You’ll want to validate with your vendor of choice that the data they’ve collected is consented. )

Vendors like LiveRamp are already offering addressable audiences at-scale, using Universal IDs. Universal IDs are an emerging replacement for third-party cookies, in that they replace email addresses with a hashed ID. Universal IDs form a shared user identity in the supply chain, while respecting privacy by addressing their needs with first-party-based solutions. LiveRamp currently offers the most reliable form of Universal ID, as their service doesn’t rely upon third-party cookies like some others do. 

Data clean rooms may be an option to consider in the future, dependent on your organization’s approach to risk. Clean rooms are a piece of software that will allow you to upload your audience’s first-party data to be matched against other organizations’ first-party data. This will allow you to find more prospects who match the criteria you’re interested in. While the data ingested by the clean room is thoroughly scrubbed, aggregated, and anonymized before being re-released, you do have to hand over your first-party data to the tool initially to opt in. In the event of a data breach, this puts you at-risk. This is something to discuss thoroughly with your legal and IT teams.


All told, advertising without cookies will be a changing process that will require you to have a firm hold on what you already know about your audience so you can scale your first-party data acquisition strategy and make smart bidding decisions. 

Let's connect about how I can help you audit your paid media strategy to ensure you're set up for change.


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