Traders, beware of Muscle Memory Overreach

Isabel Rodriguez

Jan 10, 2024

Digital marketing is a dynamic industry with endless learning opportunities. The recent deprecation of third-party cookies (3PC) stands out as a significant watershed that will force media planners, traders and data analysts to learn new ways of setting up and managing campaigns. But even in this fast-moving sector, old habits die hard. I’ve recently joined Anonymised after years of working in programmatic trading, from MiQ to IAS and, more recently, at Scibids. When I joined my main objective was clear: to become an expert in running and optimising cookieless programmatic campaigns. On the face of it, it didn’t seem too much of a stretch compared to my previous roles. But when I started troubleshooting some live campaigns, I realised how deeply embedded the cookie is into programmatic trading. Just like my colleagues setting up campaigns at the agency level, I too was affected by what I call Muscle Memory Overreach (MMO).

Our memory muscles are trained to bite cookies

MMO is the subconscious reliance on entrenched habits and practices even when the conscious brain is telling you to do things differently. For us traders, MMO is particularly insidious because we never needed to know that so many of the functionalities we use daily rely on third-party cookies. We don’t see warning signs on our DSP when we use cookie settings, and the platforms don’t readily offer alternative cookieless settings. But if we truly want to transition away from cookies and similar technologies, our profession needs new tools and practices.     

For example, third-party cookies are used in:  

  • Audience targeting: While setting up campaigns using DSP audiences is convenient, it's crucial to be aware that certain DSP audiences are constructed based on third-party cookies (3PC).
  • Frequency capping: Monitoring how often a particular user views an ad is a standard practice for traders. This functionality, currently present in SSPs and DSPs, will inevitably shift to using cookie IDs to achieve the same goal.
  • Conversion tracking: Tracking specific user actions, such as making a purchase, filling out a form, or signing up for a newsletter, after interacting with an ad at the DSP level also depends on third-party cookies. Nevertheless, the deprecation of third-party cookies will result in a loss of granularity in reports and optimisations related to conversions.
  • Retargeting: To re-engage users who have previously interacted with the advertiser's website, a third-party cookie is placed on their browser. This cookie contains information about the user's visit, pages viewed, products browsed, or actions taken, enabling..

How to retrain our memory muscles to work in a cookieless world

Traders are still swimming against the current because the platforms they use are still all leading them in the direction of the cookie. Similar to muscles adapting and growing in response to changing workouts and resistance levels, retraining our memory muscles will take focus, commitment and repetition. To go cookieless, you can follow three simple operational steps:

  • Gain awareness

With the 3PC deprecation, you need to identify the DSP 3PC settings you use and ensure they are turned off. This will require a pivot towards alternative methods for audience targeting, retargeting, frequency, and measurement by adjusting strategies to navigate different programmatic environments.

  • Test and learn

When introducing new alternatives into the campaign, ensure that DSP settings don't block delivery. Start with a new open line with a small budget and incorporate additional settings once the campaign runs smoothly. Use A/B testing to identify the ideal setup.

  • Document best practices

Once you identify the optimal setup for a cookieless campaign, document it as best practice and share the knowledge with other teams and colleagues.

Conclusion - 2024 is the year to retrain our memory muscles

As the industry slowly transitions from cookie-based to cookieless campaigns, this year is going to be a challenging time of transition for everyone. Current trends show that, with data processing moving to the device, many audience and campaign settings will be managed on the supply side. DSPs will need to reflect these changes in the user interface. Until that happens, traders should remember that cookieless campaigns will be set up differently from cookie-based campaigns, mindful that platforms are not yet making their lives easy. Adapting to cookieless campaigns does not have to be difficult, but changing habits will take time. You can start now and get ahead of the curve by adopting a cookieless mindset.

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