Cookieless targeting: reaching anonymised audiences

1st July  |  
5 minutes
cookieless solutions blog post

As signals from privacy-invasive advertising IDs such as tracking cookies, mobile device IDs, and user agent strings dry up, major internet platforms such as Google, Amazon, and Meta, are looking at new approaches to cookieless targeting.  For these “walled gardens,” efforts to come up with new, cookieless advertising solutions for a privacy-first world are largely being focused on authenticated solutions, with the aim of identifying audiences for targeting and retargeting purposes.  

Cookieless targeting and cookieless solutions on the authenticated web 

The authenticated web refers to the walled gardens and other online environments where users must verify their identities through logins or other digital authentication methods. Cookieless targeting solutions for the authenticated web include: 

  • First-party data authentication: (1) Walled gardens leverage their databases of user information, including login data. In this approach, users authenticate with their personal accounts, providing these platforms with a reliable means of tracking user preferences, search history, and interaction data within the environment. (2) Businesses like retailers or subscription services collect data through transactions or account sign-ups. This data is then integrated into DSPs to engage audiences with tailored content.  
  • Privacy-preserving APIs: Google’s Privacy Sandbox, currently in development, aims to group users into cohorts based on similar browsing behaviours and interests. This method allows advertisers to target groups of users rather than individuals. However, the IAB and others have raised concerns about the Google Sandbox, and it’s too early to tell how useful the approach will eventually be for advertisers.  

The key challenge with non-walled garden authenticated cookieless targeting solutions is that they do not provide the scale of third-party cookies. Specifically, authenticated solutions are of no use in resolving the identifies of web users out on the open web.  

This is important because consumers are increasingly choosing the open web over authenticated sites. Figures from The Trade Desk show that while consumers spent 62% of their time in walled gardens in in 2014 this had dropped to 39% in 2023. Meanwhile consumers’ time spent on the open web has increased from 38% in 2014 to 61% in 2023. There is therefore an urgent requirement for cookieless solutions aimed at verifying visitors from the open web. 

Cookieless targeting on the open web 

There are a range of solutions for cookieless targeting on the open web. However, no single solution currently has the potential to provide advertisers with the reach they require: 

  • Unified IDs: These identifiers use encrypted email addresses or other user-specific identifiers to identify and profile users. This approach requires user consent and is used to create a consistent identifier across different services and devices. However, as Google has said it has no plans to support email-based identifiers in the future, the long-term efficacy of Unified IDs comes into question. 
  • Identity graphs: These are databases that compile data points from various sources to create a unified profile of individual users across multiple devices and platforms. However, identity graphs face a challenge with sourcing data. Deterministic graphs require many of the signals that are currently being lost to be accurate, while probabilistic ID graphs introduce a degree of uncertainty as they rely to some extent on educated guesses to resolve identities.  
  • Contextual targeting: By analysing the context of web content instead of relying on user data, advertisers can place ads relevant to the content being viewed. This method is privacy-friendly and is gaining popularity as cookies are phased out. However, as contextual advertising doesn’t tailor ads based on user data, the approach can result in less personalised ads, potentially decreasing their effectiveness and relevance to the interests of the viewer. 

Telco-verified IDs: a comprehensive cookieless solution for the open web 

Brands are increasingly looking to build their first-party data capabilities by directly engaging with users to obtain consent to use their personal data, thereby creating a more reliable and compliant data source for profiling. Indeed, 92% of marketers say that third-party cookie deprecation makes first-party data more valuable than ever. 

One way that brands and publishers can leverage first-party data to verify users on the open web is to use telco verification services. In this approach, telco-verified IDs, such as Novatiq’s Zenith ID, enable brands and publishers to verify consented first-party cookies and generate accurate, real-time, cross-domain and cross-device user profiling. Using telco-verified IDs, publishers and brands can quickly produce a panoramic view of their users, verify audiences at scale, and create accurate and tailored campaigns. 

Publishers and brands have a choice. Either they can either wait around for Google to work out its post-cookie plans -which may or may not end up being acceptable to the regulators. Or they can plug the hole with authenticated cookieless targeting solutions until these signals also dry up and they are back at square one. Fortunately, there’s a third option: by adopting scalable, privacy-compliant, and accurate solutions like telco-verified IDs, brands and publishers can build a platform for personalised programmatic advertising that will last long into the future. It’s an easy choice to make.  

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