Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The open web: tapping into users across the mobile web – without third-party cookies or other identifiers

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By Niall Moody, UK Trading Director at Nano Interactive

In 2018, many were unsurprised – if a little disappointed – to discover that in the UK, we spend a day a week on our phones. This was pre-pandemic, of course – when our busy lives included meetings, dinners out, work lunches, gym classes – all periods of time when we would not look at the small screen in our pocket. Now, our lives can be summarised by this Tweet: “another day of staring at the big screen while scrolling through my little screen so as to reward myself for staring at the medium screen all week”.

The world has, by necessity, moved online. Already a huge part of our day to day lives, we have in the past year come to rely on the internet for just about everything, from our shopping to our social lives. Brands have therefore found themselves under some pressure to reach those eyeballs with compelling, relevant messages.

The demise of the third party cookie

Third-party cookies have defined targeting and retargeting for over a decade, on mobile and desktop alike. We have collectively honed our ability to use these so effectively, that for the digital marketer the coming demise of their existence on Chrome – by far the most popular browser – will hit at a really difficult period. However, painful as the timing may be, it’s probably past time we as an industry stopped relying on what is both an invasive and relatively insecure means of targeting customers across the web.

We of course compound this issue through Apple’s changes to IDFA (identifier for advertisers) – which now mean personalisation is opt-in, rather than opt-out. Marketers cannot afford to wait for what Chrome’s Sandbox initiative brings forward or for big tech to decide how to replace third-party cookies and IDFA. The time to prepare is now.

While focus on first-party identifiers and identity graphs is popular, this is not the only area marketers need to think about. The open web is to a huge extent made up of non-logged in, anonymous users. Third-party cookies have allowed us to target these people, but their demise means we will be limited to only identifiable users across much of the internet unless new solutions are found.

Back to the future moment

The answer then, is a little ‘back to the future’ – contextual targeting. But this time it is powerful, machine learning enhanced contextual targeting. It is made up of understanding the intent signals that drove a user to a particular publisher site combined with deep analysis of the on-page entities, page sentiment, brand safety factors and interaction analytics such as dwell time. For mobile marketers, this might mean combining the brand safety and relevance of what a person is reading on their phone with their reason for being there.

This means they can reach mobile users trying to find answers to very specific questions or need states that their brand is trying to help with – even if people are on the go.

When factors like live (intent) signals and deep on page intelligence (meaning, sentiment and brand safety) are accounted for, we attribute a unique ‘Consumer Intent Score’ to that advertising opportunity to determine its suitability. The effectiveness of this method shows that advertisers no longer need to rely on the third-party cookie to gain an accurate and holistic view of users in relation to ad campaigns – the industry must therefore look to adopt these privacy-centric approaches before we absolutely have to.

With the world glued to its screens, marketers have an opportunity to reach customers on mobile and desktop alike – if only they make sure to account for the full spectrum of how we use our devices on the internet.