Jan 24 2024
Clare McKinley

Cookieless Advertising for Automotive Advertisers


After not one, but two delays, the deprecation of third-party cookies in Chrome is finally upon us. Google is drawing the process out a bit to help advertisers (and consumers) adjust to the changes, deprecating cookies for just 1% of Chrome users over the span of Q1 2024. However, given that 1% of Chrome users represents over 32 million people, it’s safe to say that things are getting real for advertisers.

Even if Google were to unexpectedly delay things yet again, the situation would still be an urgent one, given the signal loss advertisers have had to grapple with in recent years—a result of factors including Apple’s App Transparency, increased consumer demand for data privacy, and the continuing wave of privacy-related regulation. Automotive advertisers, notably, will need to move quickly, as they’ve invested heavily in digital for over a decade now and are thus more reliant on the targeting and attribution capabilities for which they’ve come to rely upon third-party cookies.

To learn how automotive marketers should approach this shift and what strategies they should invest in to set themselves up for success in a privacy-first world, we spoke with Jim Zabel, Basis Technologies’ VP of Brand and Agency Development – Auto, and a 25-year auto marketing industry veteran. Read on for his insights on how auto advertisers can adapt to the cookieless future.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for automotive advertisers as we move towards a cookieless future?

Jim Zabel: The auto industry is in a particularly interesting position because of the degree to which they’ve invested in digital marketing over the past 15 years. Even small and mid-sized auto businesses were early adopters. With cookies going away, the biggest question for brands and dealers is this: Can you accept the fact that the loss of third-party cookies will lower the performance benchmarks you’re used to seeing? I think this is going to be a big challenge to overcome. Companies will need to redefine success, and that’s going to require a significant mindset shift.

To use a non-cookie-related example, sometimes we’ll see clients want to stop a display or video campaign because they’re not seeing the same metrics as search. But performance for those channels isn’t comparable: Search is a lower-funnel tactic where you can see the conversions roll in, and the higher-funnel brand awareness achieved via display or video isn’t trackable in the same way. But that doesn’t mean those tactics aren’t revenue-driving and critical to a well-rounded campaign.

Similarly, without third-party cookies, brands and dealers won’t have access to the same depth of performance metrics. However, that doesn’t mean that their tactics and strategies aren’t driving revenue. For agencies working with dealers and brands, educating clients early and often on this point will be especially important.

A lot of auto brands and dealers are likely to want to stick with the status quo and prioritize short-term success and the maintenance of previous benchmarks, even if that means embracing cookie-like solutions that don’t fully honor the spirit of what consumers are asking for. But the brands and dealers who embrace the shift towards privacy-first advertising, and find new ways to measure performance, will have the most success in the long run.

What cookieless marketing solutions are particularly useful for automotive advertisers?

JZ: A handful of solutions come to mind here.

First, defining audience segments specific to the channels you’re advertising on is going to be very key. Advertisers need to really understand where their customers are consuming media, and media mix modelling can be helpful here to identify the highest value tactics in your campaigns. Automotive marketing teams should also up their investments in audience research and develop highly defined, channel-specific audience segments to enable their targeting. Of course, this goes along with investing in the collection, storage, and extension of first-party data—in a cookieless world, first-party data is king.

Contextual targeting will play a major role as well. Contextual allows advertisers to get very specific about who they’re serving ads to without directly relying upon third-party user data, thus respecting consumer privacy. Investing in partnerships with publishers who provide specific content and have a deep understanding of their consumers will be incredibly valuable to automotive dealers and brands.

Also, walled gardens have a big advantage because of all the first-party data they have access to. In a cookieless world, I think it’s very plausible that those walled gardens will use that advantage to oversell their value to advertisers. That’s not to say that advertisers shouldn’t take advantage of walled gardens—they’re a smart choice for enabling that targeting. Even more, the omnichannel nature of programmatic can help extend those investments, because advertisers can use data from those walled gardens to target other channels where targeting on its own is going to be a lot harder to do. At the same time, it’s important not to overinvest in walled gardens: For most marketing teams, your own first party data should be the priority.

Leveraging a customer data platform (CDP) to organize and leverage that first-party data (more on CDPs in a bit) can also help advertisers on the attribution side, because CDPs allow advertisers to track a user across various touchpoints, and see how each tactic contributes to the eventual conversion. Advertisers should also reprioritize brand lift studies and cookieless conversion attribution tools to assist on the attribution side.

Could you provide some specific examples for how automotive advertisers might approach the cookieless future?

JZ: Let’s start with dealerships as the first example. Dealerships are sitting on treasure troves of first-party data, and there’s a massive opportunity to harness that data for their own marketing. At the same time, as data modeling becomes more accessible, there’s a real potential for dealerships to coordinate targeting and digital media tactics with brands, and vice versa. Many dealer groups are adopting CDPs to increase their ability to organize their first-party data into relevant segments and use it for audience modeling as well. I’ve seen a lot more appetite to get those sophisticated capabilities in-house, and I think that’s a smart choice for dealers of any size.

Next, let’s explore the brand side of things. Overall, brands need to rethink their data strategies, both in terms of collecting and maximizing their own first-party data, and in terms of coordinating with dealers to make the most of the wealth of data they can offer. Getting proactive about gathering that data from dealerships and setting up systems that ensure that data is being shared in privacy-compliant ways is my biggest recommendation for advertisers working with brands.

And, as I mentioned earlier, both dealers and brands should prioritize audience research, contextual, privacy-compliant programmatic, and cookieless attribution tools.

Wrapping Up: Cookieless Advertising for Automotive Marketers

As the digital advertising industry shifts to a privacy-first paradigm, automotive marketers are at a pivotal crossroads—pun very much intended. Brands and dealers can either cling to the old status quo, or they can overcome signal loss by prioritizing consumers’ demands and embracing data privacy, as well as the new benchmarks for success that come with it. Those who play the long game—identifying new ways to measure success and investing in audience research, first-party data, contextual targeting, privacy-compliant programmatic, and cookieless attribution tools—will have a competitive edge going into the privacy-first future.

Want to learn more about the state of identity in 2024? We surveyed over 200 marketing and advertising professionals to discover how they’re navigating signal loss, third-party cookie deprecation, and the shift towards privacy-first digital advertising. Check out all the latest data and insights in our in-depth report.

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