The death of third-party cookies: why marketers should reprioritise creative

Thought Leadership

The death of third-party cookies doesn’t feel like great news for the marketing industry. Good, perhaps, for consumers (greater privacy); bad for digital marketers (fewer targeting and measurement opportunities).

However, all digital channels are not created equal. Yes, every part of digital will be affected in terms of targeting, optimisation and measurement, and solutions for these elements will solve for multiple channels.

But social media in particular needs to be approached differently from its digital counterparts. Why? Well, from a behavioural point of view in social, marketers can use multi-way communication as a brand and add value, whereas search and display are more passive platforms. It’s also home to a diverse audience, which uses different channels and their features in creatively diverse ways.

With this in mind, preparing for a privacy-focused future across these key areas will give marketers a strategic advantage.

Retooling media
Firstly, marketers need to diversify digital media budgets and placements. Think more closely about the right channel mix for your target audience that delivers the best balance of context and scale, and manage them more like a portfolio. Take stock of your social platforms – which you use, why and how – and explore more niche platforms you don’t use that perhaps you should.

Bespoke media planning and distribution should focus on understanding where your audience is and how best to engage them; consider contextual targeting. Deliver value to communities by using social media to drive unique niche targeting.

A typical media approach would be to maximise conversions while minimising cost. In a privacy-first world, a customised approach is recommended to ensure you’re considering and testing lower scale. Higher intent channels, however, may be undervalued by traditional media measurement. This is where the contextual, niche environments of social platforms from Facebook to Spotify or Clubhouse come into their own.

Reprioritising creative
Most of the industry focus so far has been on the tracking and measurement impact of the changes. There are very few conversations around how creative can capture attention even when your targeting isn’t as precise.

Re-prioritising your content means making it both engaging, bespoke and platform-specific. There’s a huge variety of social media that can offer different levels of scale and context. Publisher sites are similar, but social media can go from Clubhouse to TikTok to Facebook, and each of those networks has a different culture, audience and scale.

Creative will be even more important as targeting becomes broader – we know that one blanket message will not resonate. High impact creative ideas and testing will be critical to sustain high performance campaigns, by enabling brands to find the right match between the message and the person.

Creative automation has a role to play in helping deliver against this by facilitating scale and speed, without compromising quality. But equally as important is having the strategic nous to understand cultures and subcultures on different platforms and what they will respond to, before investing any media spend.

Adjusting measurement
Adjust your approach to measurement by taking a holistic view to understand total results and uplift, not just conversions that are directly attributed to paid campaigns. Consider lift and incrementality – by shutting off a channel to assess what happens, for example, or by seeing how different panels affect branded search volume – and use lift studies and incrementality testing in addition to the usual attribution models. Focusing on lifetime value over short-term revenue will also give a clearer picture of the health of your marketing spend.

On social media channels specifically, think about the quality of the attention you’re getting in addition to the number of impressions or return on ad spend. People who spend more time on a platform or engage more with the content should be valued higher than passive reach on a newsfeed. Those who get it right will deliver on people’s demands for engagement, entertainment and relevancy on social platforms they feel in recent years have been debased as brands turning them into advertising channels.

As solutions evolve, a replacement, or more likely a combination of replacements, for third-party cookies and identity may fill this void. However, it’s equally possible that this shift will unearth better and more effective ways of measuring results.

Getting the basics right
Finally, data isn’t disappearing. Marketers can still collect and master first-party and zero-party data to understand and analyse consumers more deeply. Brands should ask of all their marketing: is this worth my customer sharing their data? It may sound obvious, but there are still many brand owners yet to get to grips with this.

This privacy-first world will no doubt be a very different one for digital marketers to navigate. However, our industry is ripe for change. Through a combination of people-led planning, retooling measurement and creative innovation it’s possible to be as effective – or more so – than before.


This article was originally written for WARC by our Global Head of Media, Brittany Wickerson.