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The cookie crumbles: trends digital marketers must watc...

Business Maverick

Marketing Analysis

The cookie crumbles: trends digital marketers must watch

Ads finding real people will be better than showing your wares to bots.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

You visit a car sales website to view a car, and suddenly, like Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense, you’re seeing them everywhere: popping up on Facebook, chasing you as a banner advert on your favourite news website, and even sneaking up as a creepy advert to interrupt your casual browsing. Third-party cookies might be on their way out (which is great for consumer privacy), but they’re not the only significant changes digital marketers are expecting to see within the next year.

As Covid-19 hastens digital transformation, marketers have new obstacles and opportunities to reach their audiences. Everyone’s talking about the loss of third-party (3P) cookies, but no one knows what to do yet, says Ryan Sauer, MD at specialist performance marketing agency King James Group.

“Third-party cookies garner data from other websites – they know where you live, whether you’re male or female, where and when you shop. There are clear privacy concerns from a Protection of Personal Information and GDPR [the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation] perspective. Google, Firefox, Safari, etc know that they need to turn off 3P cookies to comply with regulation and so consumers will feel less data-compromised, but there are solutions being discussed.”

The death of the 3P cookie is expected in early 2022, which has raised concerns that it could impair the ability to target consumer behaviour, that it might increase ad fraud and – critically for digital marketers – could make measuring and reporting on campaigns substantially more difficult.

The changes, required because 3P cookies have been ungoverned and abused, will have a massive impact on legitimate operators, forcing some publications and service providers making a living from 3P banner ad placements and quality content to review their revenue generation model.

“It’s good from a consumer protection side – there will be less specific and more general targeting advertising. There will be a level of segmentation, but it will be broad criteria rather than hyper-segmented. And the revenue for the websites running 3P ads will certainly be affected,” says Sauer.

Almost half of South Africans surveyed are using ad blockers; a further 56.8% say they have deleted cookies from their web browser in the past month. New rules on cookies and tracking mean user-identifiable data will disappear. Sauer says performance and conversion tracking are changing, so brands and businesses need to plan for this by building relationships with clients with first-party data through competitions and newsletter subscriptions.

“You can track this via Google Analytics to understand users’ journeys, who is visiting the website and how they behave from first-party cookie data. You know the name, cellphone number and email address. So instead of annoying customers with random product offerings, I can communicate with them more specifically.”

Digital marketer Dr Augustine Fou agrees – he has warned that too many marketers have “hyper-targeted”, with many targeting parameters, thinking it makes the ads more relevant for users. “Research has shown that it doesn’t,” he writes in a recent Forbes article. “In fact, consumers are seeing far too many ads that are not relevant” – hence ad blockers.

Fou says when all the “useless and harmful things” built on 3P cookies go away, associated costs go down and effective business outcomes from digital marketing go back up.

“More specifically, when advertisers buy ads from real publishers with real human audiences, they will get better outcomes than hyper-targeted ads shown on millions of long tail sites to bots, pretending to be various audiences. This will also reduce the need for privacy-invasive data collection and the extra costs of targeting parameters, audience segments, fraud detection, brand safety detection, etc.”

This “cookieless” future is bright, Fou believes, for advertisers, good publishers and consumers. “But it will be grim for ad tech vendors that had profited off privacy-invasive data collection from users, diverting ad revenue away from good publishers to themselves, and selling snake oil to advertisers.”

Sauer says another trend to watch this year is social commerce, as social posts evolve from mostly text-based communications to images and videos. This has enabled social commerce to fulfil a through-the-funnel-role, which hinges on content, product discovery and conversions. Users would visit Facebook, Instagram or other social media, see an influencer wearing something they like and realise it’s sold at a particular store. Now, they can click on the item and buy it within the same “channel”, Facebook or Instagram, for example.

Customers are spending more time in alternate realities online than before Covid. Sauer says both Google and Apple are investing in virtual reality: if your brand lives in a gameplay, the probability of a user engaging with it in the real world increases. “What marketers can do to improve their visibility in these worlds is to first establish which environments they are spending most of their leisure time in and place brands with medium frequency in these environments.”

Market research group Kantar’s latest Trends and Predictions for Advertisers suggests the changed media landscape is an opportunity to build richer connections with audiences, consumers and clients.

The group says that though 2021 is the year digital ad spend is forecast to become dominant globally, the digital ad world will undeniably also become tougher to target and measure.

“Recent Kantar research reveals 64% of media owners and publishers are worried about the impact, with 48% of marketers concerned that their companies won’t be able to provide impactful performance without cookies – yet only 40% of respondents’ companies were actively preparing for this change, marginally more than the 35% seen in 2019.”

Consumers, it says, are similarly conflicted: 54% actually like tailored advertising but 56% worry about privacy – a conundrum as we move into a new, hybrid world of ad effectiveness measurement. Without a total view of campaign impact, advertisers will require direct technical integrations with publishers to gather exposure data in an anonymised and privacy-compliant way.

Major publishing platforms, it says, will still offer digital effectiveness solutions based on their own platforms and siloed data, but advertisers seeking holistic campaign effectiveness while adhering to privacy rules may turn to alternative measures like fingerprinting and short-term plug-ins to gather those “digital crumbs”. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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