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Ad tracking: the end of the road?

As digital marketers, we’ve been closely monitoring the privacy debates between Apple, Facebook and Google over the last two years.

While it’s clear that online advertising has become something of a ‘Big Brother’ in the way that ads now seem to follow you around the internet, we’re now facing a new paradigm, one that can no longer rely on cookies and third-party data.

Third-party cookies were designed to anonymously store information under the control of end users, but were used by ad tech providers to amass and link datasets to target and measure highly specific ads.

But these techniques for gathering data on potential audiences will soon become redundant as the major platforms move to a do-not-track model. Apple’s requirement for apps to ask users to choose has created major issues for many ad-funded apps, including Facebook; Google is moving to a cookieless approach by 2023[1], effectively ending two decades of data-driven media advertising.

Although this is a positive step forward for everyone's data privacy, it does create issues for our ability to target audiences, especially around click-based engagement. This lack of data will make it difficult to capture interactions with ads, and since January 19th, it has been further complicated by Facebook deciding to remove detailed targeting options[2] such as:

  • Health causes (e.g. ‘Lung cancer awareness’, ‘World Diabetes Day’, ‘Chemotherapy’)

  • Sexual orientation (e.g., ‘same-sex marriage’ and ‘LGBT culture’)

  • Religious practices and groups (e.g., ‘Catholic Church’ and ‘Jewish holidays’)

  • Political beliefs, social issues, causes, organisations, and figures

So how can we plan for this new marketing challenge?

One solution is to adopt a first-party data strategy.

In a nutshell, first-party data is any information that you collect from either your customers, your website visitors, or your social following. You have unique relationships with your users, and you can tap into these relationships to amplify and optimise your campaigns.

This could be data that you collect via various channels, such as:

  • CRM (newsletter signups etc)

  • Purchase/donation data

  • Social followers

  • Social engagements (likes, shares, video views)

This obviously limits the scale of your campaigns, especially for recruiting new audiences, but using this data to build lookalike profiles (available on both Facebook and Google) will help to reach those at the top of the funnel.

If your organisation is concerned about uploading customer data to third party ad platforms, there are ‘clean room’ solutions that will hash the data, anonymising it, before sending it on to the ad provider.

Simply put, a data clean room is a neutral, privacy-safe environment where brands and publishers can combine their first-party data with a trusted partner’s second-party data without exposing either party’s personally identifiable customer data to the other[3].


It’s clear that targeting on all the major ad platforms is evolving. As we lose access to the interest-based data we’ve found so effective in the past, we need to focus on creating new customer journeys, developing engaging content strategies that connect, encouraging first-party interactions and building on that data to find new audiences.

In many ways, it’s a timely prompt to refocus on concepts and content that stop the right people in their tracks, rather than relying so heavily on precision targeting … a challenge that creative advertisers should relish!

Andrew Hastie


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