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Cookieless mobile marketing
Mar 05, 2024

The cookieless mobile world: how advertisers can stay competitive

Chris Yu
Author Chris Yu

Marketers are gearing up for the cookieless mobile era. Here’s a glimpse of how going cookieless is impacting the mobile world.

The digital media scene has had a shake-up since 2024 began. As data privacy regulations increase (as well as the start of the elimination of third-party cookies) advertisers and technology companies are shifting their strategies to stay competitive while adapting to these data privacy changes. The mobile segment is shifting as well – implementing changes towards more safeguards around personal data. 

But how exactly is the mobile world doing that, and how is going “cookieless” impacting the industry?

What’s the deal with going “cookieless”?

Essentially, going “cookieless” means you are no longer capturing data identifying individual users through third-party cookies.

When you visit a website, cookies are small bits of text (or code) the site sends to and stores in your browser. These cookies contain information such as unique user IDs, the site’s name, login details, language preferences, and more. 

There are two variations: first-party cookies and third-party cookies.

First-party cookies are created by the website owner and collect user analytics data and personal information which helps run the site better. They help understand user behavior by tracking users as they migrate through a website and improve their user experience by remembering settings and preferences to create a more fluid web experience.

On the other hand, third-party cookies are not created by the website owner. They are instead created by advertising companies and other online platforms for tracking, re-targeting, and ad-serving purposes. They are not served by the website. They can be used for wider targeting, audience profiling, and cross-tracking of ads.

For those keeping track or need a refresher: Google recently announced it’s gradually eliminating third-party cookies in all its platforms and servers. Specifically, Google Chrome has restricted third-party cookies for 1% of users from January 4th, 2024, and plans to ramp up third-party cookie restrictions to 100% of users from Q3 of 2024 onward, subject to addressing any remaining competition concerns of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.

This means that from the start of 2024, you can expect to see an increased portion of Chrome users having their third-party cookies disabled. Ultimately, this hits site owners and advertisers as third-party cookies will be disabled for site visitors even if the site owners are not actively participating in the Chrome-facilitated setting.

In addition, the onset of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and new data privacy regulations across the globe have led to stringent changes in the way businesses process, store, and use consumer data. The GPDR is a regulation that harmonizes data privacy laws across the European Union and enhances the protection of all its residents with respect to their personal data.

The regulation results in more individual rights for users and stricter data privacy compliance for businesses. The definition of “personal data” has been updated to include location data and online identifiers – and this is where cookies come in.

This has resulted in new challenges for businesses and marketers since they now have to come up with attribution alternatives that don’t depend on tracking customers through third-party cookies.

The cookieless mobile world

The mobile world has its fair share of challenges and shake-ups when it comes to going cookieless.

For instance, Apple has rolled out changes and updates to their mobile devices, releasing an IOS update where apps must ask users’ consent to be tracked. This prompted a “Ask app not to track” pop-up to appear on users’ smartphones whenever they open an app for the first time.

The iOS14 update uses an intelligent tracking prevention feature (ITP) to restrict third-party cookies in their web browser from collecting individual data and tracking them across the web. 

Within the last decade, most companies had “cookieless solutions” focused on mobile IDs. A mobile ID is a unique identifier based on mobile devices such as iPhone, Android, etc. The apps on mobile devices would track the user’s information (such as location and online behavior) which would then be sold to data brokers and third-party data assets without the users’ consent.

Specifically, advertisers use these MAIDs (mobile advertising identifications) to track and target advertisements to specific users. MAIDs are created by the operating system of the device, such as Apple’s IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) or Google’s AAID (Android Advertising ID), and are stored on the device.

When a user interacts with an advertisement, the MAID is sent to the advertiser, allowing them to track the effectiveness of the ad and personalize future advertisements for the user.

Some would argue that this is technically a “cookieless mobile solution” – targeting people on their mobile devices for display advertising through a browser or apps with ads in them. However, the act of all this information being gathered is what prompted Apple to impose these changes, with most users opting out of being tracked when the pop-up appears. 

As a result, marketers are now faced with the dilemma of finding creative solutions that are more consumer-focused and privacy-friendly. This creates the need for cookieless mobile marketing: a way to target mobile device users without tracking them via cookies.

Customers are already shifting to mobile-first and cookieless in 2024. In fact, a study by Kortx suggested that Safari is a default mobile browser for the majority of iOS users and therefore, already functioning as a cookieless mobile browser. 

In addition, a consumer trend survey conducted by Hubspot suggests that 84% of marketers expressed that data privacy changes affected their strategies in 2023, resorting to various alternatives such as social media targeting, collecting first-party data, Google Topics API, contextual advertising, and universal identifiers. 

Overall, 81% of marketers still heavily rely on third-party cookies to some extent, and around one in five marketers say they aren’t prepared to lose them.

Tips for staying on top of the cookieless mobile revolution

Despite knowledge of third-party cookies’ eventual phasing out, the majority of advertisers still haven’t adopted new targeting methods. According to eMarketer, cookies were used for 78% or more of programmatic ad buys across industries as of late Q3 2023, with many advertisers still increasing their cookie ad spend. 

Eventually, they will have to pivot towards cookieless solutions and therefore, the need to be proactive about cookieless mobile marketing is necessary now more than ever. Here are some tips on staying on top of the cookieless mobile world:

  • Consider contextual advertising: Contextual advertising involves placing ads on websites based on their content and relevance to the user’s interests. It doesn’t rely on tracking individual user behavior, making it a privacy-friendly alternative to behavioral targeting while staying relevant and engaging to the user’s experience. (Learn more about how contextual targeting can be a substitute to third-party cookies)
  • Invest in first-party data: First-party data and information which is collected directly from consumers, can be valuable in creating detailed customer profiles and understanding consumer preferences. Additionally, advertisers can use this information and segment their target audiences accordingly. As a result, they can deliver personalized marketing that resonates with their target audience in the cookieless mobile space.
  • Make use of cohorts: Advertisers can create and make use of cohorts (groups of users with shared characteristics) for effective cookieless mobile marketing. Cohorts can be based on different factors such as demographics, purchase history, and website behavior. By targeting cohorts rather than individual users, advertisers can maintain a level of personalization while respecting user privacy.
  • Try alternate identifiers and solutions: Alternate identifiers that rely on user consent could play a significant part in the cookieless future. These include hashed emails (where an individual’s email address is transformed into a unique string of characters), mobile ad IDs, device fingerprints, or proprietary solutions such as Unified ID 2.0 (an open-source digital framework that utilizes encrypted and hashed email addresses or other anonymized data that users willingly provide). SMS marketing can also play a role – such as in instances where users opt in to receive text messages and promotions by giving their mobile number.
  • Experiment with media mix modeling: Media mix modeling (MMM) evaluates the effectiveness of different marketing channels to optimize budget allocation. Meanwhile, media experiments, through testing hypotheses, yield insights from real-world scenarios. This approach delivers valuable data that shapes strategic choices and directs marketing spending without needing personally identifiable information (PII) or cookies.

Final thoughts

Going cookieless is not the end of the world. It just means that more effort must be dedicated to staying competitive in the mobile advertising space. The shift in strategies and technology challenges marketers to evolve to a more privacy-centric approach. 

With companies worldwide already developing alternatives, more innovations and technology will emerge as solutions in adapting to a cookieless world; even possibly, specific alternatives suited for mobile applications. 


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