The advent and evolution of digital marketing and advertising have unlocked seemingly endless opportunities for automotive brands – including the OEMs, dealers and AdTech companies we serve – to create meaningful interactions with their target audiences. Offers and messaging are timelier and more relevant than ever and measuring the impact of their media investments on offline sales is now possible. Advertisers have a unique ability to meet consumers where they are – not only regarding their digital location, but their place in their vehicle purchase or service journeys as well.
While past and current data-collection and targeting methods have helped to fuel extremely effective and efficient advertising and media measurement operations for brands around the world, many consumers and regulatory bodies believe these capabilities come at the cost of consumer privacy – especially by way of third-party cookies.
But what is a cookie, you ask? Cookies are small text files stored on a web browser to track web activity and ad interactions. First-party cookies (1P) help organizations identify visitors on their sites. They also collect user analytics associated with those visitors and store their settings to create personalized web experiences for ease of use and convenience. Third-party cookies (3P), which have long been the backbone of programmatic advertising, are set by a third party and are used to identify users across web domains so the ads on the pages being visited can be sold on auction to advertisers. In recent years, consumers have become more aware and sensitive to the use of 3P cookies and the capabilities they offer marketers; regulatory bodies are taking notice, too.
In response, major browsers like Safari and Firefox have already moved to change the way consumer data is collected – and to begin a paradigm shift toward creating “the cookieless future.” Google Chrome has also announced its plans to stop the use of 3P cookies on July 1, 2023.
So, now that we know what cookies are, let’s talk about Urban Science®’s involvement in guiding our clients toward the cookieless future. We sat down with innovator Scott Clark, global practice director, Media Performance, to learn more.
Should advertisers worry about cookie deprecation?
Scott: Advertisers are rightly confused and anxious about the changes to the AdTech supply chain, and they’re concerned about how it will impact their marketing objectives. In line with our core value, Invent the Future, we take on our clients’ challenges and continue to invest in new possibilities that position us as a strategic partner now and in the future. Urban Science’s Media Performance data solutions—including SalesMatch™, In-MarketAudiences™ and SupressionAudiences™ — are powered by true automotive sales data that is ethically sourced, privacy-safe and compliant with all applicable laws, and doesn’t rely on cookies. We also work with like-minded industry leaders to deliver our best-in-class solutions to automotive advertisers. This means we’re well-positioned to navigate the changes brought by a cookieless world, and by working with Urban Science our advertising clients get the benefit of being prepared to meet them head-on too.
How is Urban Science an innovator in this space?
Scott: For a long time, 3P cookies have been among the most common ways to passively identify users online. They were cheap to implement, making it incredibly easy to track users’ info and use it for targeting. We’ve supported the AdTech industry’s demand for targeting and measurement with 3P cookies, and we’ve played a leading role in helping OEMs and dealers optimize their marketing efforts across the U.S., but Urban Science saw the writing on the wall back in 2019 that 3P cookies were falling out of favor. So, I began my journey to reconfigure our solutions to continue to support our cookie-based integrations while simultaneously preparing for a cookieless world.
Urban Science’s Media Performance solutions are designed with an “interoperable identity framework,” so we’re able to offer our Media Performance solutions across all commonly used ID spaces. This includes cookies during this unprecedented transition, but it also means we will support privacy-compliant identity frameworks that are becoming more common in the AdTech supply chain. These new identity frameworks still offer some of the same benefits as third-party cookies (e.g. cross-site capabilities), but they operate with user transparency and stricter privacy controls.
As major browsers stop supporting third-party cookies, marketing that relies on transient or unauthenticated tracking will be less durable. How is Urban Science staying ahead of this trend?
Scott: We’re working with like-minded data collaborators and platforms to shift away from third-party cookies and toward more durable and privacy-safe IDs like the identity frameworks I described above. These ID types are durable because they are derived from authenticated Personal Identifiable Information (PII), and they are privacy-safe because they are hashed. A hashed ID is created by processing the PII through a one-way hash and salting function, which converts the PII into an obfuscated value – the salt is a random value added to the PII before hashing it to further protect the user’s data from being re-identified. When the same PII and salt are processed using the same encryption methodology, you will always get the same result every time which makes it a safe and reliable ID for use in advertising across the open web.
For example, when you log into your favorite social media app or news site, you often log in with credentials (e.g., email log-in) that can be used to reliably identify you as a user on that platform, and when hashed into an ID, it becomes a privacy-safe option for targeting and measuring results at the individual level versus cookies that approximate an individual. Urban Science has offline sales measurement and targeting at the hashed individual level, making us a perfect fit for the future. This enables us to offer consumers a fair value exchange for their data, which comes in the form of ad personalization and ad efficiency/suppression so that they do not see ads for things they have already purchased.
Clients may be reluctant to change. As automotive business scientists, how can we make the transition worry-free and as easy as possible?
Scott: The good news is that we work with the platforms “upstream” from our clients. Our clients will reap the benefits of our work without feeling it. We’ll continue to support clients who have cookie-based targeting and measurement in-flight during the transition, but we’re also actively working with our platform collaborators to migrate our client’s services toward more durable and authenticated ID frameworks.
Will the deprecation of third-party cookies impact digital marketing?
Scott: Yes. Cookie-based inventory has long been plagued by waste and fraud due to bot traffic and poor ad inventory quality. We predict less waste, higher accuracy and better-quality inventory as the ecosystem moves away from third-party cookies and toward authenticated ID frameworks. This also means we could see a reduction in digital ad volumes which may also lead to an increase in premium rates. But the improvements in quality and accuracy of targeting and measurement will be worth the investment. After all, humans visit high-quality websites and purchase vehicles. Bots don’t.
We also predict contextual targeting (CT) will make a comeback. CT places ads near a particular topic of interest (like a sports page or news article). Ultimately if advertisers and publishers rely on data and marketing services from trusted sources like Urban Science to power their behavioral targeting and data-driven measurement, there are more reasons to be excited about the deprecation of third-party cookies than to be afraid of these changes.
If you have any questions about the deprecation of third-party cookies, the impact this will have on your marketing efforts, and whether Urban Science can help you navigate them, please reach out to Scott Clark at email@example.com.