The future of advertising is cookieless

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  • 04 min. reading
  • Digital Marketing

For as long as it’s been around, digital marketing has been centered around third party cookies. These small files are stored locally in a user’s browser and collect data about what they’re doing on a given webpage. Third party cookies then communicate them back to the advertising platform, helping them to determine whether their efforts have been successful or not.

While using 3rd party cookies can be very valuable for advertisers, they’re not infallible: cookies may not always load correctly, or users can delete them from their browsers. “But the most important factor is that third party cookies are increasingly regulated, not only in Europe but worldwide,” Bart van Nieuwenhuyze, Client Solutions Manager at Meta explains.

In response to these new regulations, Google will soon stop the use of Third party cookies altogether to be in line with global legislation. And more often than not, if Google makes a major change, then it should be on every digital marketer’s agenda.

So how should digital marketers deal with a cookieless future? That topic was on the agenda for a recent session of Beyond Digital.

(Want to join the next meeting of Beyond Digital to learn, share, and shape the future of digital in Belgium? Sign up for more information here!)

Tracking remains key

A cookieless world doesn’t mean that nothing gets tracked anymore. Tracking what users do and how they interact with ads is still essential for digital marketing. “Without it, digital marketing would, for a large part, lose its edge over other marketing channels,” Bart explains.

Dirk Biesmans, Head of Digital at TotalEnergies, confirms: “We’ve calculated what’s at stake when we can’t use third party cookies, and it’s likely to have a big impact on our business. We would lose out not only on knowing our ROI for specific campaigns, but also in terms of consumer insights. We use those insights to predict and prevent churn, for example, and to spot opportunities for cross- and upselling. So there is very much a need to fill this potential void.”

So while there’s no place for third party cookies in the future of digital advertising, tech platforms are developing new, futureproof ways of tracking how users interact with websites.


Laptop on a table

Conversions API

Meta’s answer to this challenge is the Conversions API. The Conversions API, or CAPI, works by letting the advertiser track the relevant interactions as they happen on their website server, instead of tracking interactions in the user's browser. The CAPI then communicates this back to Meta in an encrypted form. Only if identifying data can be matched with a Facebook user – for example, the e-mail address used to register for a purchase or a newsletter, is the same as the one that’s known for a Facebook profile - then it can be connected to that user profile. If there is no match, however, then Meta can’t use or even decode the information.

What changes for advertisers

While cookies allowed the advertiser to track just about anything, and come up with more refined analytical questions later, this CAPI requires advertisers to be more intentional with their tracking efforts. “Advertisers may need to adapt which events are tracked and how impact is measured,” Bart explains. One way of doing this would be to request identifying information higher up in the marketing funnel, like asking shoppers to log in before purchasing anything, or to sign up for newsletters in exchange for a discount. If their CRM is well sufficiently developed, companies could even use that to get more accurate data. “Advertisers will have to ask themselves what they want to measure, and how – and what this data is worth for them,” Bart adds. “There are many ways to incentivize users to share information, and I see more and more companies getting creative in their efforts to do so.”

“There are many ways to incentivize users to share information, and I see more and more companies getting creative in their efforts to do so.” 

Bart van Nieuwenhuyze

Bart encourages marketers who want to implement Meta’s CAPI to start by familiarizing themselves with the different concepts like the types of cookies, and to learn how the CAPI works. “While this may seem overly technical or even daunting at first, it really does get easier the more you learn about it.”

Another important step is to figure out the legal implications. “Most companies’ legal teams are justifiably concerned with covering their bases to avoid any repercussions,” Bart says. “They want to examine which information is being tracked, how the data is stored and shared, and which forms of user consent are required to do so. That’s why, in my experience, the legal aspects are the most time consuming step in changing to another form of data tracking.”

Although it’s advised for businesses who may not have the legal or technical talent on board to bring in help where needed, the actual implementation shouldn’t scare you off: “Once you’ve taken the right preparatory steps, the set-up process for the Conversions API is relatively easy and well documented with online resources,” assures Bart.

And as for the user’s browsing experience? “There will be no noticeable difference for them,” Bart concludes.

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