‘We must create new proxies’: In the absence of cookies, advertisers focus on attention-based metrics

Measurement concerns are rising among the world’s largest advertisers, but the real tough choices lie ahead.

Six weeks after learning that third-party cookies — the tool that houses the identifier used to track people across sites — will soon be redundant in the world’s largest browser, advertisers are grappling with a difficult set of choices. They are already struggling to understand the impact of targeted ads online with cookies, but without them, it’s virtually impossible.

Google’s solution to third-party cookies is its Privacy Sandbox, which is a series of proposals that could move a large portion of the authorization, measurement and insights on ads to the browser. This could, in turn, create a dependency on the browser-as-platform, which doesn’t sit well with some advertisers.

“In the absence of those cookies, we must create new proxies for measurement,” said the chief media officer at a consumer goods advertiser.

In other words, fewer cookies mean less tracking data, which ultimately causes havoc with the measurement of online ad campaigns. Without information about a person’s behavior provided by a consistent identifier from a third-party cookie, post-view conversions will be treated as isolated events, for example. So, marketers not only lose the single consumer view they’ve been trying to build over the last decade but will also be unable to deliver highly targeted ads across sites and devices.

“The ad industry did ourselves a disservice when it said all media would be measurable and we’d be able to unify our investments to an individual,” said a senior media buyer who wasn’t authorized to talk to Digiday. “We didn’t take into account what consumers were going to be comfortable with and didn’t think the walled gardens would never allow advertisers to understand their users at a granular level.”

Boxed in by this conundrum, advertisers look set to put off their most difficult decisions until later this year as they try to rationalize whether they actually need the third-party data signals they’ve become so reliant on.

Instead, advertisers are trying to augment their current attribution strategies and solutions with their current providers, which in turn is pushing those businesses to think harder about what they do in the future, said Omar Amath, a strategist at digital agency Agenda21.

In turn, advertisers are starting to think about how they use their own first-party data for brand building campaigns online, which is something only a handful of advertisers to date, said Direct Line Group’s head of group commercial marketing, Sam Taylor at ISBA’s annual conference in London yesterday.

“In most of the cases where we use our data in our advertising, it’s done at the top of the funnel of our marketing funnel, rather than at the bottom of it,” said Taylor. “It’s not necessarily about the cheapest possible conversions. It’s more about how we can use the data to reduce wastage, which is an entirely different way of looking at it.”

Meanwhile, other advertisers are gearing up to test attention metrics like viewable cost-per-thousand impressions. Indeed, Mars, Microsoft, and Diageo joined The Attention Council earlier this month as a way to assess the quality of ad placements through the lens of attention and the proxies for it.

Attention metrics have grown in popularity in recent years as advertisers like Asics have grown wary of easily gamed metrics in favor of better proxies for media quality. This shift has been accelerated by pressure on outcome-based proxies like brand impact and attribution, created by regulation and the subsequent crackdown on third-party tracking in the most popular web browsers.

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