Why the death of the cookie shouldn’t trap you in a walled garden 

Has the demise of the third-party cookie pushed you further into a walled garden? Find out why this could be a mistake, and what you should do instead.  

Over the past few years, the third-party cookie has been in a gradual decline. As a result, many advertisers are understandably worried – and considering resorting to potentially limiting and performance-inhibiting options, including walled gardens. 

According to research by Lotame, which polled over 1,400 respondents across seven global markets, 37% of marketers plan to invest more in walled gardens once third-party cookies go away.

But while a significant number of brands say they will switch their budget to walled gardens, they weren’t overwhelmingly happy with the decision. The report found that 36% of marketers were concerned about business growth if they were unable to target outside walled gardens, and 31% said they were ‘constrained’ to using walled gardens for their acquisition strategies.

And their fears are well-founded.

Because, while walled gardens CAN be a good thing in specific circumstances, there are many good reasons why you need to be wary of relying on them for your advertising. And to help you understand why, in this blog we share four reasons why the death of the third-party cookie shouldn’t trap you in a walled garden.

Why brands need alternatives to the third-party cookie

But first, let’s quickly recap why advertisers need to find a replacement for the third-party cookie. 

The days of the third-party cookie have been numbered for several years now. In 2010 the Federal Trade Commission requested that social networking sites and browser developers create a ‘do not track’ cookie system.

This was just the first in an increasing wave of restrictions and legislations that include Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), which limits the ability for website owners and advertising platforms to track users across domains by purging third-party cookies after 30 days, and GDPR, which prevents websites from relying on implicit opt-in.

The final nail in the third-party cookie coffin will be when Google finally end their repeated delays in abolishing third-party tracking, and launch their alternative (which currently is set to be the less-than-popular Google Topics).

Four reasons why the death of the third-party cookie shouldn’t trap you in a walled garden

Given all of this, it is understandable that advertisers are worried about how they can run effective campaigns that they can accurately attribute post-third-party cookie. But we don’t believe that backing yourself into a walled garden is the answer. Here are four reasons why. 

1. You don’t own your data

When you run ads inside a walled garden, you benefit from the first-party data owned by that walled garden. But therein lies the problem: it’s their data. That means you get no visibility on the data, and you never own it. 

So if you use a walled garden to access first-party data and reach new customers, you won’t get any visibility on who those new customers are, or even if they are new customers to you at all. 

Compare this to working with a programmatic partner who gives you full visibility of your entire customer lifecycle. So you can not only see which customers are genuinely new, and have the ability to retarget these people with specific messaging that will increase conversion, but provide better customer experiences, while increasing revenue and response rates and minimising budget wastage.

2. You can’t accurately attribute 

Another downside to using walled gardens is that you can never properly attribute your campaigns. As a result, you have no insight into your ads beyond whether they have led to a sale at that moment or not.

This means you have no idea whether the ad you paid to run genuinely contributed to a sale, or whether you would have made the sale without spending money on it. 

This was something we proved in 2019, when one of our clients participated in the Facebook boycott. You can find out what happened to their ad campaigns here, and why it’s a cautionary take against relying on walled gardens. 

And, if you want to learn more about how you can achieve accurate attribution, you can download our guide here. 

3. You have no transparency over a walled garden’s attribution window

One of the reasons your ability to properly attribute in walled gardens is limited is their attribution window (also known as a lookback or conversion window). 

An attribution window enables you to look back and identify which behaviours led people to click on your ads, which in turn allows you to identify which channels or campaigns are leading to your desired conversion events. 

But if your attribution window is short, you have a very limited ability to track customers’ behaviour. This means you risk showing an ad to someone the walled garden claims is a new customer, but who has already visited your website, or potentially even bought from you already. They could even be your most loyal customer. 

With a limited attribution window, the walled garden has no way of knowing this, so you risk serving existing customers ads suitable for a new customer. Not only is this messaging jarring and off-putting, but they could find themselves continually being ‘harassed’ by ads designed for someone else, which could put them off engaging with you in future. 

So an ad campaign intended to win you new customers, could actually lose you existing, highly valuable, loyal customers. 

4. You have limited creative flexibility

Talking of ads, when you choose to invest your marketing budget in a walled garden you are inevitably limiting your creative ability and flexibility. 

Walled gardens like Facebook demand that you use their in-house ad building software. And this is far more basic and inflexible than the options you would have using the dynamic creative optimisation (DCO) of a programmatic partner. 

For example, most walled gardens rely on static ad campaigns in which a few different ad creatives are developed for a campaign. These are then tested using a split sample to find the creative that performs best. 

The problem with this is that it overlooks many important factors such as time of day, day of the week, season, weather, location, etc. 

With dynamically optimised creative, thousands of ad components can be developed for a campaign, and can be served based on any number of factors, including the time of day, day of the week, season, weather, location, browser behaviour, etc. These can also be tailored to specifically where someone is in your customer lifecycle – something walled gardens are unable to do. 

So when you rely on walled gardens for your ad campaigns you are significantly limiting your creative opportunities – and the potential performance of your ads. 

What should you do instead of trapping yourself in a walled garden?

The death of the third-party cookie should not trap you deeper in a walled garden. While walled gardens may have a place in your media mix, relying on them too much can reduce your attribution, limit your creative options dramatically, and even irritate and put off your customers. 

Instead of feeling like your options are being reduced by the demise of the third-party cookie, working with a programmatic partner like Crimtan will enable you to continue to reach the right customers at the right time, with the right message, throughout your customer lifecycle.  

With audience consent and our own proprietary technology (including industry-leading DCO), we analyse customer data and behaviour alongside contextual data sources such as geo-location, brand and product intent signals, content interests, weather and even pollen count to inform your advertising strategy in real-time.

We then use the same framework to evaluate the impact of your campaigns, allowing you to measure true ROI and ensuring you reach and engage the audiences you need to achieve your campaign goals.  

All of this is far beyond the scope of a walled garden, so if you prefer more freedom, flexibility and value for money in your campaigns, don’t let the phasing out of the third-party cookie make you feel trapped. 

Want to learn more about your options beyond the third-party cookie? Download our guide to accurate attribution and get in touch with one of our experts to get started.