Guest Post: Why you must act now to prepare for when the cookie jar is empty

Guest Post: Why you must act now to prepare for when the cookie jar is empty

Farhad Divecha, managing director and founder of AccuraCast, warns firms that recover after the pandemic could find themselves hit by the challenge of cookieless advertising 

Cookies have been around since 1994 and are a fundamental part of how the web works, about as essential as Wi-Fi or HTML.

The public only really became aware of them in 1996 when the media started talking about cookies being a threat to privacy.

In 2011 the European Union legislated that websites must gain user consent to track activity with cookies, and we are all now very familiar with the cookie pop-up messages that appear every time we go on to a new website. 

The benefits for brands using cookies are widely known – but you may not be aware that the way cookies are used is changing. 

You may have heard of Apple’s quiet introduction of iOS 14.5 in recent weeks, but this is only step one of the sea-change we’ll see in digital marketing over the next year and beyond. These changes have serious consequences for the travel industry. 

The introduction of the App Tracking Transparency Framework with iOS 14.5 brings significant challenges for advertisers.

Early data shows only 13% of iOS 14.5 users across the world have allowed apps to track their activity across other companies, apps and websites.

It’s a far bleaker outlook across the pond in the US, where an average of just 4% of users have allowed tracking.  

In fact, approximately 5% of iOS 14.5 users have chosen to go as far as blocking apps from even asking whether they are open to being tracked.  

With early reports showing CPA increases of approximately 15% for advertisers that had not prepared for these changes, this should serve as a clear warning sign for businesses moving forward. 

Although recent research has shown that 75% of businesses believe alternatives to third-party cookies are essential, the same research revealed that almost half of companies are not fully prepared for a future without cookies1. 

With Covid taking the crisis spotlight for over a year, the looming issue of cookie-less marketing has been less of a priority for many businesses, especially in sectors that were badly hit by lockdowns.

But while most have spent the last 12 months placing all efforts and resources behind putting out pandemic-shaped fires, the deadline to implement solutions to overcome marketing cookie restrictions has edged closer – and travel businesses that have not prepared for it, are already facing another potential crisis. 

The challenge is that cookies that allow Facebook and Google display networks to track users on other websites, such as after they have clicked on ads, will be disabled by default for nearly 90% of all users. 

This means ad networks such as Facebook and Google will no longer be able to track activity once a user leaves their domain or app.

Important information such as successful bookings and destinations of interest will be lost – vital insight in the travel industry as advertisers rely on this info to determine whether clicks on their ads turn into sales/leads and if not, whom they should retarget and with what message. 

Travel brands that haven’t addressed this need to start planning now, otherwise they risk losing opportunities to optimise ad campaigns to drive more sales and retarget visitors to their websites.  

Implementing solutions to cookieless marketing takes time, so leaving till the last minute won’t be an option. According to Facebook, advertisers could see a 150% increase in cost per acquisition if they lose performance tracking. 

This is a massive change to digital marketing, and brands that don’t consider it will find their costs increase very significantly. 

It will also be harder to track customers – a particularly unwelcome turn of events, given everything the industry has gone through with COVID. Brands need to future-proof tracking, increase data reliability and attribution accuracy. 

What are the big brands saying about these moves? Google hasn’t officially announced any clear guidance; however, Google Tag Manager has had a server-side offering since autumn 2020.

Google also recently announced FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts). This is Google’s new approach to deliver and measure ads shown to Chrome users after it retires third-party cookies.

Facebook has been the most proactive in pushing cookie-less tracking, being the first and only major ad network to come up with a real and viable solution.  

The process to adapt isn’t simple and needs to be planned. In fact, large organisations may need to allow three to six months to implement a solution. 

There are three main options for cookie-less performance tracking;   

  1. Hard-coding onto the website. This will give maximum control but requires technical knowledge and developer resources, and may not be something the business has in-house.
  1. Implementing prefabricated integrations. This might seem like the easiest option, but the solutions are currently very poorly supported and are often prone to bugs. Also, they often don’t cover all conversion events an advertiser might want to track and optimise 
  1. Using a server-side tag management solution like Google Tag Manager. This might be the easiest option, in time, but currently there is very little support and no straightforward  It also comes with potential additional costs for Google Cloud Platform data storage and processing. 

My advice for travel businesses, would be to start planning now. The first step is to start building up your own customer and target audience data and lists – your own first party data.

Brands will also need to update GDPR cookie notices because data collection methods on site will change. 

It’s been a long and hard 14 months for the travel industry, as the sector arguably most effected by the pandemic. 

It’s no surprise that these changes haven’t been a priority. But now that we’re seeing light at the end of the Covid tunnel, it’s time for travel firms to act.

If not, they may find that they’ve fought to find their feet once again, only to be knocked down unnecessarily.

Unlike the pandemic, the fall-out from cookie-less marketing can be avoided and I urge businesses to prepare now. 

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