The Coming Cookiepocalypse and the Future of Ad Effectiveness

The elimination of third-party tracking cookies, aka, the “cookiepocalypse”, is sending tremors throughout the digital advertising world, including among those that rely on tracking cookies and other identifiers for measuring ad effectiveness.

Last January, Google announced it would stop supporting third-party tracking cookies in its Chrome browser within two years. Once a largely hidden technology, cookies have become increasingly more visible to consumers, in part due to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which require sites to explicitly ask users to opt-in to the use of tracking cookies. With Google soon planning to remove support for third-party tracking cookies entirely, pretty much everything you think of as internet advertising will fundamentally change. So, too, will measuring ad effectiveness.

Facebook is 😠 with Apple

As if Google’s move to crumble cookies weren’t enough, Apple has announced it will kill the identifier for advertisers (IDFA) and will instead ask very prominently for permissions to track users across apps and websites outside of Apple’s purview. So, if you thought you could get around Chrome by working exclusively in iOS, no such luck.

Although these changes were expected with iOS 14, which was released last week, Apple delayed the privacy measures until 2021. This produced an industry-wide sigh of relief. But it will be short-lived because those measures will be implemented eventually.

Already, Facebook has made noise about discontinuing support of iOS 14 campaigns all together. Their rationale is simple: If Facebook can no longer track someone across different apps and websites using the IDFA, then their ability to optimize publisher ad inventory on iOS would be lost.

More generally, all of this is part of a larger transition from the early days of tech, when companies had largely unchecked control of personal data, to the future where people have greater and greater control over their personal data and how companies use it.

All combined, it is no exaggeration to say that these events together constitute one of the most disruptive changes to hit the worlds of internet, mobile, and technology in many years, even decades.

Remember the New Oil?

Once upon time, not too long ago, when someone used Facebook, or Google, or Uber, or similar, it was usually taken for granted at these companies would gain access to vast quantities of personal data, and have largely unlimited usage rights to that data. Indeed, not too long ago, The Economist declared that data was the new “oil of the digital era”. However, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the emergence of GDPR and CCPA, and the changes in Chrome and iOS, as noted above, the rules have changed. Today, individual consumers increasingly expect (and regulators increasingly enforce) that companies who gain access to their data are only able to use that data for limited and explicitly granted purposes.  Companies cannot just take someone’s data and do whatever they want with it. If they want to use someone’s data, they have to ask first. For individual people, of course, this is a very good thing!

But what does this mean for ad effectiveness?

It means that it will be much harder for advertisers to understand the effectiveness of their ads across different environments, platforms, and experiences. You might wonder why — after all, an advertiser gets lots of information on their ads, such as clicks and impressions, right? Yes, but the fact is, a large percentage of digital advertising spend is not necessarily for something you click on. What about an ad for shampoo? Or for a car? Or for a mattress? The purpose of an ad for a Ford F150 isn’t necessarily to get someone to click through to a website and order a Ford F150 right there in that moment, but rather to build brand awareness and create other positive emotional responses to the brand and product so that, maybe months or even years later, when that person decides to buy a truck, they buy a Ford F150. In other words, there is a lot more to ad effectiveness measurement than just “clicks” and “impressions”. There are often many steps and many days, or even many months and years, between the moment a consumer sees an ad, and there being an action taken by that consumer as a consequence of that ad. Technologies that rely on third-party tracking cookies — such as a survey targeted to someone that has recently seen a specific ad — have long been one of the ways that advertisers gain a deeper understanding of ad effectiveness. As third-party tracking cookies and other similar methods disappear, advertisers will increasingly lose critical visibility into the effectiveness of their ads.

Of course, we are not the only ones to recognize this coming disruption. Kantar recently announced that its launching “Project Moonshot”, which aims to become a new industry standard for ad effectiveness by combining data from different advertising platforms. Other initiatives from companies like Nielsen are just around the corner. Still, even in the case that a company like Kantar may be able to get data from the platforms themselves, each platform will define and report its own metrics. Furthermore, those metrics will not necessarily be those that best help the advertisers, but rather those that encourage maximum spending on the ad platforms. How will advertisers work with these vastly different data sets, with conflicting definitions, interpretations, and motives? Ultimately, somewhere in the ecosystem, there must exist a means by which advertisers can make truly independent and objective measurements of ad effectiveness. It is only through objective, independent measurement that advertisers will be able to correlate and model these different data sets from the platforms. And that inherently means, somewhere in the ecosystem, there must be a direct relationship with consumers who are willing and able to consent to allowing independent ad effectiveness measurement.

In a cookie-less future, ad effectiveness will require direct consent from consumers

In a world where the users increasingly own and control their data, there is only one way to independently measure ad effectiveness: by having a direct relationship with consumers, and getting their explicit consent to measure what ads they see, and how they respond to those ads. In other words: advertisers will need a panel, and group of people who is willing to provide consent to measurement.

This is where Embee comes in

Embee has direct relationships with consumers who have opted into our panels. As a result, we can measure ad exposure—across browsers and apps—in a representative way.

Talk to us and we can help.