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05/13/2021

A Cookie-less World Creates an Appetite for Retail Media

Changes to third-party cookie policies are forcing a seismic shift in how marketers acquire, retain and engage with consumers. Are retail media networks the solution?
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The digital marketing ecosystem has relied upon cookies as the primary mode of orchestrating digital advertising. With the death of these cookies accelerating the move to first-party data, marketers who are lagging in first-party datasets and proper technology alignment will be at a loss.

Major browsers are removing third-party cookie functionality, with Google planning its elimination within the next two years. Chrome, Safari and Firefox are also implementing this change, and Apple is changing the IDFA (identifier for advertisers) in the app store. Driven by consumer privacy concerns around data collection, legislation such as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe have been introduced.

All these changes are contributing to a seismic shift in how marketers acquire, retain and engage with customers and prospects through digital media. This will put many CPG companies in a bind.

The digital marketing programs of CPG marketers rely on programmatic targeted advertising from third-party cookie-reliant platforms, and their value will be severely diminished. CPGs tend to have less first-party customer data, given that their retail and e-commerce partners typically handle the bulk of transactions (and consider themselves as owning the customer relationship), so direct consumer communication is generally limited compared to other industries like automotive, telco or financial services.

Many marketers may shift spending into walled gardens like Facebook and Google, which will still have authenticated users with targeting data. But these platforms offer limited visibility into the performance of media dollars, and CPGs don’t get any data back. They also are changing how targeting works. For example, Google is looking at options such as “federated learning of cohorts” (FLoC) that would allow advertisers to target only at the cohort level instead of individuals.

So where should CPG marketers shift their ad dollars? Where can they still get addressable targeting opportunities and the most bang for the buck? Retail media networks.

RMNs are a type of walled garden, and since they’re directly selling CPG products they may often be a better advertising fit than the likes of Google or Facebook. This was true even before third-party cookies began their demise. “Post-cookie,” RMN advertising may be a vital imperative.

Offered by retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Target and CVS Pharmacy, RMNs are built for the future. They offer media targeted to shoppers presented through their owned and operated platforms or off-network as shoppers navigate online. RMNs can provide addressable advertising opportunities that fit the needs of CPGs. Their unique value includes:

  • Rich, first-party customer data derived from long periods of shopping history across a number of products that provides granularity and precision in targeting.
  • Customers that are often logged in/authenticated or can be tracked with a compliant first-party cookie (since the e-commerce site is self-owned).
  • Shoppers in transaction mode.
  • A direct path to actual sales of the CPG’s products. Many offer closed-loop reporting to prove that the ad resulted directly in incremental sales.
  • Marketing that can be combined with other retailer-centric activity, like in-store promotions or advertising in apps or out of home.
  • The potential for more strategic advertising partnerships in which the CPG might bring its first-party data for joint targeting programs with privacy-compliant (clean room) data blending.

RMNs are a type of walled garden, and since they’re directly selling CPG products may often be a better advertising fit than the likes of Google or Facebook. This was true even before third-party cookies began their demise. “Post-cookie,” RMN advertising may be a vital imperative.

Things to Get Right

1. Leveraging the RMNs (and your own) first-party data: Targeting dimensions/attributes will be different with RMNs compared to other networks. There will also be opportunities to use both RMN and CPG first-party data to enhance and improve targeting.

2. Media activation using persistent IDs in a consented, privacy-compliant way: CPGs will need to understand how they can use RMN data and their own to capture identity in a privacy-compliant way. Many CPGs may be getting their first-party data from promotions, loyalty programs, contests, surveys, direct-to-consumer sales and other tactics that must address regulatory compliance and the customers’ willingness to share their data.

3. Understanding return on investment in a granular manner: The loss of third-party cookies not only diminishes targeting capabilities, but also the marketer’s ability to measure outcomes and conduct attribution analysis. Good RMNs will provide better methods of understanding attribution and ROI than untargeted venues, but some new skills and understanding may be needed to adapt.

When the cookie goes away, marketers will be scrambling to make up for the loss of identity, addressability, targeting and attribution on which they’ve relied. One comfort is that there is time to experiment and learn before the cookies are shut off completely. Now is the time to formulate a new post-cookie attack plan, to test and learn and to negotiate for the outcomes that are right for your brands. Moving to RMNs can get CPG marketers the level of targeting they need.

About the Authors
Janine Flaccavento is Senior Vice President, Media and New Stream Media Solution Lead at Merkle, where she works with a team of digital marketers from media, analytics, audience/CRM, technology and creative to develop custom solutions for retail clients. Sunil Rao is Vice President of Analytics, where he leads the company’s Audience Science & Management practice.

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