‘Considerably less ready’: Marketers’ post-cookie preparedness has dropped by 23% since 2022

While publishers are attempting to quell marketers’ concerns about the state of the open programmatic ad market, the buy-side is indicating that there are bigger factors at play that are contributing to their lost appetite than just MFA and fraud scares alone.

A study from Adobe (which surveyed 2,841 marketers between Feb. 27 and March 7 in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, India, Japan and the U.K.) found that fewer marketers are feeling prepared for third-party cookie deprecation than in years prior, with nearly half (49%) of their marketing strategies still reliant on third-party cookies. This is despite the fact that up until April, it looked like Google was finally going to close the cookie jar this year once and for all.

“People are not feeling more ready. They’re feeling considerably less ready than they were two years ago, which is a little bit odd [considering] that people have supposedly had two years to prepare,” said Ryan Fleisch, senior director of product marketing at Adobe. 

According to the study, released today, the portion of marketers who reported their brands as being “mostly or very ready” for third-party cookie deprecation fell from 78% in 2022 when this same survey was first conducted to 60% in 2024. In that time, however, the portion of marketers whose marketing strategies still rely on third-party cookies decreased considerably from 75% to 49%, indicating to Fleisch that cookieless tests might not be cutting the mustard. 

But “it’s not for lack of trying” that preparedness levels are down, Fleisch argued. “When you couple those two statistics together, to me that says the technology that an industry is providing these brands is not sufficient for their needs.”

One agency executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that the portion of clients still reliant on third-party cookies is far below the 49% listed in the survey, with less than 25% of overall media spend of their agency being focused on [third-party cookie] data.

Meanwhile, nothing from Adobe’s report came as much of a surprise to Mike Pollack, managing director of digital media solutions at Epsilon, he said. However, in contrast to Adobe’s findings, Epsilon has found a majority of marketers to be still dependent on the third-party cookie and a minority that feel prepared for its deprecation. In a recent survey of 257 U.S. marketers by Epsilon, conducted during the first quarter of 2024, found that 75% of respondents said they are still “very or moderately reliant” on third-party cookies, down from 82% in 2020. And only 44% of respondents said they felt “very prepared” for cookie deprecation in 2024.

Cookieless alternatives ‘lack maturity’

Adobe’s study found that only 28% of respondents spend at least half of their marketing budgets on cookie-based activations (down from 45% two years ago), but the majority of spend is being allocated to environments that help replicate the easy audience targeting experience, like social platforms’ walled gardens.

  • 62% of survey respondents said they plan to shift their spend primarily to walled garden ecosystems like social media platforms 
  • 49% said they’re prioritizing activating first-party data 
  • 42% said they are working directly with publishers

Fleisch pointed out that 78% of the survey respondents said they have bought a clean room or client data platform (CDP), but only 34% said it’s actually enabled them to feel more prepared for cookieless marketing. And within the first-party data category, he said that of the respondents who reported using a CDP, only 23% were pairing their first-party data with second-party data while 28% said they’re pairing it with third-party data. 

“The message [to marketers] can’t stop at, ‘Go build a first-party data strategy and be done with it.’ But I think brands have maybe fallen victim to that message,” said Fleisch. He added, “CDPs have let brands down if they’re not doing more than first-party data activation. And we risk recreating the problem that we set out to solve. And that’s now inherently forcing people to go back to the old ways of just buying direct through platforms.”

First-party data solutions are the predominant funnel for which the agency exec’s and Epsilon’s clients are reallocating media budgets.

“Amongst our client base, probably the most consistent response has been to build out the first-party data strategy,” said Pollack, be it through CDPs or clean rooms. For reference, the Epsilon survey found that 60% of respondents were focusing on expanding their first-party data strategies and 59% were focusing on building out a CDP. 

Following that, Pollack said clients are shifting more money toward walled gardens, which he explained is appealing to clients because of the ability to maintain personalized targeting, but ultimately carries challenges around performance transparency and overspending with the platform. 

“We are seeing first-party data advance and we’re seeing clients and businesses being far more comfortable with the fact that that needs to be a reliable signal that is used,” the agency exec said. To date, nearly three-quarters of their clients have uploaded first-party data into a DSP.


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