Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Roundtable recap: get ready for the cookieless revolution

What will the end of third-party cookies mean for marketers’ ability to track and optimise for customers? Recent research from Ad Age and Triplelift suggests most marketers don’t have adequate resources to deal with the change, so what do the next 12 to 18 months hold in store?

New Digital Age (NDA), in association with M&C Saatchi Performance, recently hosted a roundtable discussion of industry experts to explore those questions. NDA’s Editor in Chief Justin Pearse chaired the debate, where he was joined by Ruairidh Roberts, UK Country Manager, Waze; Ingrid Anusic, Marketing Director, Moneyhub; Katrina Broster, Marketing Performance & Technology Director, The Financial Times; Jamie MacNaughton, Head of Digital,; Jamie Irving, Global Head Of Digital Marketing, Boden; plus Dane Buchanan, Director Data & Analytics, and James Shepherd, Managing Director, EMEA, both of M&C Saatchi Performance.

Roberts of world-leading mobility app, Waze, opened up the discussion by focusing on the potential positive impact of cookie deprecation on the general quality of advertising. He said: “Our advertising is cookieless anyway. We don’t do personalised targeting, we focus on contextual instead. So if you’re driving close to home, for example, we’ll serve ads for local businesses. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for cookieless advertising to be much more creative and effective than cookie-based targeting ever was.” 

Jamie Irving of online fashion retailer Boden agreed, arguing that cookies have always been inferior to a deeper understanding of your customers built over time. He said: “We try to utilise CRM data wherever possible. We’ve had some of our customers for 30 years, so how we treat them is really important. We don’t want to confuse someone who’s in our CRM list with a cookie. The move to cookieless is forcing the hand of advertisers in a really positive way.”

Broster of The Financial Times believes that this is “arguably the most customer centric thing that has ever happened to the digital marketing industry” but expressed concern that despite publishers sitting on an abundance of first party data, many are still underprepared for the cookieless future. 

She said: “The challenge isn’t understanding the importance of a first-party data strategy. It’s how do you actually embed that strategy in a way that spans and encompasses the entire organisation? How do you get vertical alignment, horizontal alignment across your editorial, product, marketing teams, advertising teams? How do you quantify a first party data strategy? How much data do you actually need to sustain revenue and grow in the future?” 

What do you know?

So what alternative sources of data may be useful for marketers to fuel alternative targeting strategies?

Anusic of Moneyhub offered an interesting take on the potential role of ‘open banking’, a post GDPR development where banks make fully-consented customer data accessible to authorised parties. She said: “We work with a client called Zedosh, an advertising platform that targets audiences based on their spending, rather than their browsing behaviour. So, if someone has just bought trainers, don’t bother showing them any ads for trainers. Show socks instead. It’s absolutely appalling that cookie-based ads have a 1% engagement rate, when alternative targeting methods like the one described can produce something closer to 15%. There are solutions out there to the cookieless challenge, we just need to get creative with the data we have.”

The deprecation of cookies is forcing marketers back to first principles and focusing on the customer mindset, according to MacNaughton of tailored dog nutrition provider The nature of cookie-based retargeting, he said, was to follow a person around no matter what context they’re in at that moment, which was neither relevant nor welcome. 

“This situation is forcing us all to think more about our customers,” said MacNaughton. “What are the overlapping areas of interest among our target customers? What other areas in life are relevant for them? Are there new partnerships we can create based on those additional interests?”

Shepherd of M&C Saatchi Performance spoke of the appetite among consumers for more transparency about how their data is being used and argued that keeping the customer’s needs at the centre of the ‘cookieless’ conversation will be crucial to the success of whatever comes next. 

He said: “The reality is that cookie-based retargeting is one of the bluntest tools ever used by marketers. Retargeting won’t disappear overnight but, in my opinion, even if it did, that wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing.”

Shepherd’s colleague Dane Buchanan summed up the mood of the panel with an upbeat assessment of the ad industry’s post-cookie prospects. He said: “The assumption was that third-party cookies were letting you target specific people but the reality was often much more ‘spray and pray’ in terms of who was being served ads. Cookieless solutions exist. The big challenge for marketers right now is to convince your CFO of the potential impact of not preparing for cookie deprecation and getting the buy-in you need from your management teams across the organisation to start testing alternatives.”

To be continued…