75% of brands still rely heavily on third-party cookies: Adobe study of 2,667 marketers

By John Koetsier March 22, 2023

Three-quarters of marketers still rely heavily on third-party cookies, according to a new Adobe study. And 64% of marketers plan to increase spending on cookies this year: a technology we know is going away relatively soon. But next-generation marketing measurement and first-party data are big parts of the solution to the deprecation of all marketing identifiers: third-party cookies, IDFAs, and GAIDs.

We don’t tend to talk a lot about third-party cookies on the Singular blog, mostly because mobile marketers have traditionally focused on in-app advertising to grow their own mobile apps. 

However, modern mobile marketers are looking everywhere for audiences and impressions and conversions, including CTV and the web. So measuring cross-platform marketing and mastering cross-device attribution is important … and understanding where the third-party cookie stands starts to matter.

“Two out of five leaders are not placing a priority on preparing for a cookieless future over the next,” says Ryan Fleisch, Adobe head of product marketing for real-time CDP and Audience Manager. “Obviously the flip side of that equation: it is great to hear that, you know, roughly 60% plus are … but we’ve been doing various research reports on this for the past few years and we haven’t really seen that much of an increase of readiness.”

Who’s still using third-party cookies?

The nearly 2,700 marketers Adobe surveyed are in 8 countries: the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and India. 75% still use third-party cookies extensively, and 45% of marketers are spending at least half their budgets on cookie-based activations, Adobe says. 

In New Zealand and India, there’s an even higher reliance on third-party cookies: 82%.

It’s not like marketers don’t know this is a problem: they know third-party cookies are going away at some point.

And they’re very concerned about it. Globally:

  • 16% say this will “devastate” their business
  • 23% say they’ll be significantly harmed
  • 37% say there will be a moderate negative impact

It’s even worse in some regions. In APAC countries, minus Japan, 80% of marketers say third-party cookie deprecation will harm their businesses while 34% say it will devastate them.

Consequences of losing third-party cookies

What will happen when third-party cookies go away? To put it briefly: higher spend and lower return.

“I think [you’re] going to have to spend more to recognize the same results if you don’t have the right mechanisms in place,” Fleisch says. “The good news is … with the right technology in place, with the right first party data strategy and with the right measurement. that can largely be solved for. But if brands aren’t prepared, they can expect to see a big drop off from what they would’ve previously expected in performance.”

First-party data is one of the biggest weapons marketers have in the post-identifier marketing ecosystem, Fleisch says. 

That, of course, is not something marketers haven’t heard before. But — as Fleisch acknowledges — it’s also easier said than done. It’s also not an instant solution, and just to make it a bit tougher, it’s exponentially harder for smaller companies, start-ups, and app publishers who are just starting than it is for larger brands.

Once that data is collected in privacy-safe ways, however, it’s also a matter of storing it, structuring it, and making it available for action. That’s where customer data platforms come into play, Fleisch says.

“To me it really comes down to the CDP at the center … the CDP is the core of the functionality, but with a massive importance on making sure that that doesn’t create another silo in and of itself, and is actually connected to the engagement systems and the insight systems that you’d be looking to use to make a virtuous circle.”

Another weapon he cites: consent-based lists.

But there’s also better measurement …

The third tool Fleisch says can help fight the degradation of ad effectiveness due to loss of third-party cookies is better measurement. And as we’ve seen at Singular, that’s perhaps the tool that is right in the middle of the most change and innovation right now.

“The third piece then is around measurement,” Fleisch says. “So if I’m spending dollars on Facebook or Meta, Google, TikTok, Snapchat … I call them walled garden environments … how am I actually recognizing that spend being attached to the conversions that are happening on my site?”

Or in my app, of course.

Fleisch is right: measurement is critical. But not your daddy’s measurement. 

The measurement of the future is much richer, more nuanced, much more varied in data sources than old-school IDFAs, GAIDs, and third-party cookies. And much richer and more nuanced than just SKAdNetwork and (eventually) Privacy Sandbox for Android alone. Instead, think SKAN and first-party and Privacy Sandbox and cost/spend data and delivery data (CTR/impressions, viewability, etc) and IDFA and cookies (where available and permitted), and CTV and cross-device and console and PCA (private click measurement) … all together.

In other words, think hybrid measurement.

Multiple datapoints. Multiple measurement methodologies, including deterministic (SKAN) and probabilistic (MMM), granular (IDFA) and aggregate (Privacy Sandbox for Android). Multiple ways of modeling. Multiple ways of estimating reality with as high fidelity as possible.

From our CEO Gadi Eliashiv’s recent blog post on this:

“Instead of relying on a single view of performance (which already today is not really a possibility given the data fragmentation in iOS), there will be multiple views that employ multiple methodologies using all the data mentioned above, and serving different purposes.”

That’s complicated, but it’s actually good news if you’re a mobile app publisher or a startup business. Because you probably can’t really compete on the basis of first-party data. Maybe you don’t have enough of it. Possibly, you don’t want to collect all of it. Plus, there’s also some inherent risk in storing it, and new hassles of having to delete it upon request as per GDPR or other legal requirements.

So new forms of measurement solving the problems of losing advertising identifiers is a ray of hope.

How performant are new solutions?

The biggest question, of course, is how performant new advertising measurement solutions will be after third-party cookies join IDFA and GAID in the recycle bin of marketing history.

For Fleisch, it’s not necessarily worse. Just different.

“I think it really comes down to a trade off in quantity versus quality,” he says. “I’ve gone on before [to third-party cookie data vendors’ sites] and seen that I’ve fallen into three different simultaneous age groups and 20 different interests that I would’ve never considered … so I think in a lot of cases there’s not always the pinpoint accuracy that marketers would look for. So I think as we look to a world without cookies, yes, you’re not going to have the same volume of data, but you can rest assured that the quality of that data is gonna be higher … and you know that you’re marketing to someone with their consent, with their preferences at the forefront.”

That’s great, in the case of permissions and first-party data.

I also tend to think that better measurement using all available signals and multiple methodologies can actually outperform old-school last-click single-data-source measurement. That’s perhaps making a virtue of a necessity, but using so many more diverse datapoints and methodologies should help model a better version of reality.

And that’s a strong comfort to brands, companies, and app publishers who don’t have — and maybe don’t want — the massive volume of first-party data that enterprise brands might enjoy.

Stay up to date on the latest happenings in digital marketing

Simply send us your email and you’re in! We promise not to spam you.