‘It hasn’t changed our plans’: Despite Google’s cookie setback, Vodafone presses forward in search for alternatives

Counting on Google to furnish a rock-solid alternative to advertising sans third-party cookies is like betting on a roll of the dice, especially with the recent hiccup in its grand scheme. That’s probably why marketers at Vodafone in the U.K. aren’t losing sleep over the news. For them, it’s just business as usual, continuing their own preparations for advertising without relying on those cookies.

A core part of their plan is first-party IDs, which are unique to the digital platforms where they’re set. Essentially, these are IDs issued by a publisher aiming to monetize their audience. They provide a means to run targeted advertising campaigns without third-party cookies, and unlike other alternatives, these IDs are set by the publishers themselves, minimizing the risk of data leakage — an outcome that’s undoubtedly advantageous for people’s privacy and, consequently, less likely to attract regulator scrutiny.

However, there are some clear disadvantages to these IDs as well. With each publisher issuing them, all must be linked with advertisers’ own IDs, making the environment incredibly complex and therefore more difficult to match all those IDs.

To get around this, Vodafone is working with the ad tech vendor Adform, specifically its ID resolution tool ID Fusion. Think of it as a technology that enables advertisers to integrate the first-party IDs used by their publishers, allowing them to knit together visibility, trackability and addressability of audiences across channels.

So far this has only been tested on one campaign last autumn by Vodafone, but given how encouraging the results were, the advertiser is keen to buy more programmatic ads on the back of publisher set first-party IDs.

Vodafone ran a display and video campaign using the tool in Chrome, Safari and Firefox between the end of October and November last year. Ads bought on the Safari and Firefox browsers where third-party cookies haven’t existed for several years now, were bought as one line item on a media plan, while those bought in Chrome were another. This was so that Vodafone’s marketers could essentially run comparative tests between browsers without those cookies and those with them.

The results showed that the campaigns where ID Fusion was used, combining publishers’ first-party IDs with advertisers’ customer data to make sense of online identities without third-party cookies (on Safari and Firefox, at least), performed better than those that didn’t use it. Moreover, it delivered a 115% increase in return on investment compared to the campaign without this form of ID matching.

The campaign showed Vodafone marketers that there are certain environments and therefore certain audiences they’re unable to reach without something like ID Fusion. Plus, they achieved all of this at a significantly lower cost compared to buying from third-party cookie-based programmatic auctions. With the implementation of ID Fusion, CPMs were slashed by an average of 33%, though exact figures were not provided.

“It’s important for advertisers to be testing as many different options as possible, and not just different ID solutions,” said Tajj Zeb, programmatic lead at Vodafone U.K. “It’s why we’ve looked into our own first-party data and how we can utilize that more in our own advertising as well as things like contextual and even the Sandbox, which we’re going to test in the summer.”

Looking ahead, the plan is to do more of the same across more display campaigns and CTV, Zeb said. She believes that advertising based on these first-party IDs represents just one of many alternatives to third-party cookies. Nothing will completely replace them — not even Google’s own solutions in the Privacy Sandbox. Especially now, as it’s becoming evident that there are some fundamental issues with them that are far from being resolved.

“The latest delay to the deadline isn’t really big headline news for an advertiser like us that’s been testing various ID solutions for a while now,” said Zeb. “In fact, all the extended deadline has done is given us more time to continue with the current tests we were doing. It hasn’t changed our plans.”

Not everyone sees it this way. Many marketers either aren’t fully aware of the challenges that await them as third-party cookies vanish, or they simply aren’t motivated enough to care. Giving them more time to prepare for when those cookies finally do disappear won’t be sufficient to shake most marketers from that apathy. They’d rather make the most of the situation while third-party cookies are still available in Chrome, so to speak.

“Marketers should be using this time to think about how they can identify cookie-like functionality in various solutions to solve specific use cases that is privacy safe,” said Mark McEachran, vp of product management at ad tech vendor Yieldmo.

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