Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal, or Third Party?

Published on June 03, 2021

The Beeswax Team

The cookie-less future is upon us. What does that mean for you as a marketer? We don’t know what - if anything - will replace the third-party cookie, but let’s explore some possibilities before 2022, shall we?

Cookies, historically, have been the marketers’ best route to relevance. For the last decade or so, we’ve relied on cookies to make ads more meaningful to consumers who see them. Visit a lot of running sites? We’ll show you ads for sneakers and sports watches. Love music? You’ll see ads for streaming services and speakers. 

Not that cookies were perfect - they really identified devices rather than people, but they were reliable and efficient enough that as an industry, we pretty much hung our hats on them.

If we’re going to approach our cookie-less future optimistically, we can look at it as an opportunity to personalize better - to create even more relevant ads in a privacy-safe way. 

The problem today is that there really is no replacement for the cookie. There are lots of options for digital identity, but none is truly privacy safe, and many of the more secure options identify devices or connections rather than humans, like the cookie. With that in mind, here are some of the options the industry has today - and why none of them are ideal:

  • First-party data: Many businesses are looking at first-party data as the grail. This is the thing that will replace cookies! It’s personal! You own it! It’s your own data, so you know it’s high-quality! The obvious problem is that many companies don’t have enough first-party data to scale. Unless they offer ecommerce or paid subscriptions, only companies that can succeed in this scenario are the ones who require users to sign in to access content. That leaves most of the open web out in the cold - or scrambling for partners. 
  • Mobile ID: Solutions like Apple’s now-defunct ID For Advertisers (IDFA), Google’s Android ID, MAC address, etc. have been considered a solid alternative to the third-party cookie, but they have all the same shortcomings - and then some. For starters, they also identify devices rather than actual humans. And, like cookies, opting out of tracking is tricky and sparks privacy concerns. Up until Apple pulled the plug in the summer of 2020, IDFA was a decent option because it offered an easier opt-out, but even then, it was limited to a subset of all devices - so if your target audience preferred Android and Windows devices, you were out of luck.
  • “Shared Identity” Consortia: Across the industry, unlikely bedfellows are banding together to stand up to Google and Facebook and build their own identity databases. It’s a “strength in numbers'' play that’s designed to take a bigger share of the pie that’s leftover after the digital advertising giants have finished feasting. At the end of the day though, this is still not ideal - there are a few consortia forming, and they will compete with each other and limit success by going head to head for reach and scale. And without the “Walled Gardens,” scale for any of them will be very limited. 
  • IP Address:  Every home or business has an IP address - there’s one attached to every router, pretty  much. The IP address is an identifier that’s consistent across devices that connect to the internet via an ethernet cable or wifi, including CTV. But an IP address typically represents a home or business, not an individual person so it’s useless to target on-the-go mobile users. Additionally, it’s hard to opt-out and creates some larger privacy issues.
  • Fingerprinting: This might look like the answer, but there are problems inherent in fingerprinting. It looks like a silver bullet because browser fingerprints use a whole bunch of publicly available, mundane data - like your browser and version, your OS, installed fonts, screen resolution and more - to build a unique profile. If the profile doesn’t appear unique, it can be combined with an IP address to ensure uniqueness. But the problem is that it’s really not privacy-friendly. There’s no available opt-out for browser fingerprinting. The browsers themselves are aware of this and have taken steps to make the data required to build accurate fingerprints harder to acquire - so it probably won’t be an option in the near future. 

These are just a few of the options under consideration, and again - none of them are ideal. But the digital advertising industry has always faced obstacles, and because of the great minds, the willingness to collaborate, and the spirit of innovation that defines our industry, there’s no doubt that we’ll find the way forward. It may be one of these methods, a combination of several, or - most likely - some entirely new technology or data application we hadn’t previously considered. 

As the cookiepocalypse approaches, there will be a new pie, cake, or meringue to consider - and you can be sure that the team at Beeswax will be in the kitchen with our sleeves rolled up, working to find the next recipe for programmatic targeting success.

Want to learn more about digital identity? Download our eBook, The Future of Digital Identity.

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