Third-Party Cookie Phase-Out: What Marketers Need to Know

Cookies are an essential part of internet usage, allowing websites to remember you and provide a more personalized experience. This browser-based technology can be used to identify a device or a specific user. Although primarily designed to streamline a user’s web experience, cookies also play an integral role in digital marketing. Tracking activity across the web like websites frequently visited, interests shown and purchases made gives marketers insight into consumer behaviors that can be used to build robust visitor profiles to improve ad targeting relevancy.

Cookies were never really meant to do as much work or contain and share as much information as they currently do. As a result, consumers have grown increasingly concerned about the privacy of their personal information and are demanding greater transparency, choice and control over how their data is used. This has become a driving force behind major players like Apple, Mozilla and Google modifying their support of the tracking technology, creating a need for digital advertisers to adapt with innovative solutions that do not rely on cookies.

But not all cookies are going away. First-party cookies will remain (at least for now). Potentially troubling third-party cookies are what will soon become obsolete. There is no reprieve. It’s coming and is unavoidable. The technology that provides the foundation for online marketing as we know it today will cease. So, what exactly does that mean for the advertising industry and your brand’s digital campaigns?

First-Party Cookies vs. Third-Party Cookies

Let’s start with a quick refresher on the difference between first-party cookies and third-party cookies. A first-party cookie is code generated by the website being used. In general, these are considered safe and allow the site to gather basic analytics about the user’s visit(s). The data is limited to the user’s behavior on that website; their activity on other websites not affiliated with that domain is not shared.

Third-party cookies are placed by another website that is not the website the user is browsing (hence the name third-party). These cookies track a visitor’s activity as they browse the web collecting information like sites visited and even potentially contact information like name, email address, street address and phone number.

This data is used to help understand a user’s interests, preferences and traits allowing brands to target more effectively based on that information. Third-party cookies also enhance attribution capabilities by providing a more holistic view of what goes into a conversion which facilitates campaign optimization.

Data Privacy Concerns

Until recently, most users didn’t realize they were being tracked by third parties and the depth of information collected. In an effort to promote data privacy, major browsers either already are or will soon significantly limit both the persistence and utilization of third-party cookies.

A series of laws and government regulations designed to protect user information have evolved over time as well. The two most significant policies worldwide are the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). GDPR was designed to protect the personal information of users in the European Union (EU) and European Economic Area (EEA) while CCPA gives consumers in California more control over the personal information a business collects about them. Voters recently approved Proposition 24, the California Privacy Rights and Enforcement Act (CPRA). It amends key elements of the CCPA and will replace it effective 2023.

As a result, some companies have chosen to implement permission-based third-party cookies, while others have begun to phase them out completely and are seeking new solutions. Regardless, third-party cookies are living on borrowed time challenging marketers to find an alternative that balances consumer privacy and personalization.

Third-Party Cookie Phase-Out

Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox already block all third-party cookie tracking on their browsers. Although Google has now postponed removing support of third-party cookies on Chrome, the three-month phase-out period is expected to be complete by late 2023.

As of Q2 2020, the top three desktop web browsers, Chrome, Safari and Firefox held 68.3 percent, 9.3 percent and 8.9 percent of the market share respectively. In terms of mobile browser traffic, Chrome held 61.9 percent and Safari held 26.9 percent of the market share as of June 2020. Consequently, Chrome’s removal of third-party cookies will have the strongest impact on the advertising industry to date.

Then there’s the mobile app world where IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) is used to track user behavior. This randomly generated and generally anonymous identifier enables addressable advertising and conversion tracking online. Apple dealt a crushing blow to this technology with its iOS 14.5 launch in April 2021 by disabling it by default. Originally scheduled to go into effect with the release of iOS 14 in September 2020, the delay gave partners a brief reprieve. However, users are now required to opt-in before apps can collect and share data using the device identifier. Despite an ad campaign in defense of the personalization enabled by this tracking, Facebook was forced to comply and request permission to track user activity beyond the app.

Since the iOS 14.5 release, users can configure data privacy settings with one tap.

Advertising Implications

So, what does this mean for your brand’s digital advertising campaigns? It’s an end to current cookie-based targeting and measurement across the digital ecosystem that provides insight into which channels, creative, messages and placements deliver the best ROI. Although the loss of third-party cookies doesn’t mean this ability is gone forever, it does make tracking and performance measurement more challenging.

It’s important to note the change will have a limited impact on advertising within large platforms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Pinterest. These walled gardens where users log in to accounts and accept detailed terms and conditions around data usage can still collect data from users and easily advertise within their own domain without much restriction. However, once a visitor navigates off these platforms, standard privacy restrictions apply.

A Replacement for Third-Party Cookies

Discussions are underway among various industry bodies such as the IAB and key stakeholders to develop new technical standards and guidelines. Although independent ad tech firms are working feverishly to develop their own solutions, all eyes are on Google for a new standardized replacement.

Google has, in fact, has been working on an alternative solution called the Privacy Sandbox that would curtail improper tracking while continuing to allow ad targeting within the Chrome browser. It seeks to strike a balance between personalization and privacy by anonymously aggregating user information and keeping more of it on the device itself rather than storing it in the cloud. As a Google Premier Partner, Mindstream Media Group has access to resources to keep us on top of developments like this that will impact our clients’ current and future campaigns.

Source:  Google

Apple has a solution as well that was actually released in 2018 and is now experiencing increased adoption since iOS 14.5. The SKAdNetwork, or simply “ad network API,” is an integration between advertising platforms and Apple’s App Store that attributes mobile app installations and post-install activity to advertising campaigns in a privacy-compliant manner. However, it comes with its own challenges – namely, it aggregates users and is not delivered in real-time, complicating attribution and optimization.

Facebook has released an updated version of the Facebook SDK to provide support for Apple’s SKAdNetwork API. However, because of its heavy dependence on app advertising, these changes have had a significant impact on Facebook’s Audience Network.

Targeting Alternatives

Although third-party cookies have become a pillar for behavioral targeting, it’s important to remember that is just one targeting option. Viable alternatives include the following:

  1. Focus on first-party data.

Leverage your brand’s customer data platform (CDP) to get to know who your customers really are and target them directly. Because the data collected is more personalized than third-party cookies, this option can generate even better sales and conversions.

  1. Establish a direct partnership with publishers.

“As third-party data disappears with cookies and GDPR compliance, publisher audience knowledge is now being seen as a viable data source for segmentation and targeting and deeper insights in audience and brand engagement,” says Damon Reeve, CEO at The Ozone Project.

  1. Optimize retargeting and owned media.

Upload your own contact list to a platform such as a social media network or search engine to enable targeting to those contacts or a mirror audience that shares similar demographics. Owned media, such as websites and social platforms, should also be strengthened to engage visitors tapped through retargeting efforts.

  1. Utilize contextual targeting.

Contextual methods that reach consumers at key moments of research and inspiration will not be affected since they broadly target device type, brand, operating system or mobile carrier. This option also provides control over the type of content the ad will run adjacent to such as Health, News or Sports and includes parameters for geography and time of day.

The ability to track, measure and target across sites, screens and channels is imperative to crafting efficient and effective media strategies. Although a radical shift, the phase-out of third-party cookies could open the door to entirely new methods we have yet to imagine and create a more engaging, fraud-limited environment.

We view this change as an opportunity to reach an audience that chooses to see our clients’ ads by the nature of opting-in to tracking within apps they find valuable and trustworthy. The publishers and apps we partner with can distribute – and limit – content, features and ads based on an individual’s opt-in settings, involving the user in an unprecedented tracking relationship, a deeper level of trust and an enhanced online advertising experience.

Now more than ever, agile marketing strategies are a must. Connect with us to learn how we can Fast-Forward Your Business and deliver meaningful progress on your goals amidst the continual evolution of digital media.

Editor’s Note:  This post was originally published in February 2021 and has been updated for freshness and accuracy.

Advertising to Teens: How Brands Can Connect with a Generation that’s Always on Their Phones

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you, teens are almost always on their phones. According to Common Sense Media, 78 percent of teens check their devices at least once an hour. The question marketers need to be asking is, “What are teens doing while on their phones?”

To try to figure that out, let’s look at the basic usage numbers and the primary things teens are using their phones for.

(A quick clarification: Some reports call teens Gen Z. Some refer to them as teens. For clarity in this article, we will use the term “teens” for anyone ages 12 to 17.)

Smartphone adoption

The latest report from eMarketer estimates that 86.5 percent of U.S. teens will use a smartphone this year. That’s comparable to the overall adult population, which is estimated at 74 percent; and slightly less than 18-24-year-olds, who are at 97.4 percent, due in part to the tendency for younger teens to not have smartphones yet.

Basically, the older the teen, the more likely they are to have, and regularly be on, a smartphone. They’re using social media, apps, games and messaging services. And, important for marketers, they have buying power. From games to clothes to electronics, teens are buying (or getting their parents to buy) a lot of stuff. Here are some tips to get them to pay attention to your advertising and buy your products and services.

Social media usage

TikTok has seen explosive growth in the last year and has become a serious competitor among social media platforms in terms of both usage and time spent. In fact, it has now surpassed Facebook in time spent among users and by the end of the year will have more Gen Z users in the U.S. than Instagram. This shows the rise in popularity of short video that’s well suited to a short attention span and can be consumed quickly and easily.

TikTok is closing the gap on Snapchat too, however, Snapchat is predicted to remain the leading social network among U.S. teens for at least the next four years.

Social media advertising

Although teens dislike advertising, YouGov data shows that 39 percent of American youth say advertising on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram grabs their attention.

Thanks in part to its less intrusive nature, influencer marketing has become a particularly impactful way to reach teens. By incorporating brand, product and service messages into the social content teens consume, influencer marketing provides a less disruptive advertising experience that resonates with teens. In fact, 70 percent of teens trust influencers more than celebrities and 6 out of 10 teens follow their advice.

Although they’re not yet old enough to vote, marketers shouldn’t doubt the online buying power of teens. An estimated 85 percent of Gen Z uses social media to learn about new products. They’re also shopping. An eMarketer May 2021 report shows that 62.8 percent of 14–17-year-olds have made at least one purchase via a digital channel (including mobile, online and tablet).

What’s next?

The data tells us that teens tend to switch their online habits. A lot. The social media platform that is No. 1 today may not be six months from now. They adapt to new technologies and trends and aren’t loyal to any one site. As marketers, we need to continuously monitor where teens are spending their time online and how they prefer ads to be delivered to them. Just because there’s a hot new app, doesn’t mean an influx of ads on that app is going to sit well with teens that liked the feeling of being an early adopter of a new site. It also doesn’t mean the hot new app will have staying power. Keep your eyes on things that may be taking off, but don’t jump in before it’s proven itself.

If teens are your target demographic, be willing to test, to research and to adapt quickly. They’re always on the move so you need to be able to do the same.

Editor’s Note:  This post was originally published in September 2017 and has been updated for freshness and accuracy.

Award-Winning Talent at Mindstream Media Group

Founded in 1951, the Alliance for Women in Media (AWM) is a professional organization committed to providing educational, networking and professional development support and growth opportunities for women across all segments of the media industry. AWM connects, inspires and celebrates the achievements of women in electronic media and allied fields.

The Dallas/Ft. Worth branch has been educating and acting as a resource to members and the industry for over three decades. Each year the group holds an Awards of Excellence Gala to recognize outstanding individuals in the field. Mindstream Media Group was proud to have several members of our team nominated for awards this year.


Bradi Slovak, Supervisor, Programmatic Operations was selected as the winner of the Digital Support Staff category.

Bradi has been a part of the Mindstream team for 7 years. In addition to managing the programmatic team in the Dallas office, she is also responsible for running and optimizing display, pre-roll video, CTV and digital PR Out of Home campaigns for a number of clients. She has a strong understanding of hitting KPI goals across a range of media channels and has extensive experience executing and optimizing media across several DSPs. Bradi enjoys putting together full-funnel programmatic media strategies and works to drive maximum efficiency, spending media dollars at the right time with the least amount of waste.


Chandler Swanner, Associate Media Buyer was nominated as an Agency Rising Star.

Chandler’s mother was a Media Buyer and later a Media Director in media for 25 years. All her friends were also in the business and hearing how much they loved the industry led Chandler to want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. For the last 6 months Chandler has been learning the ropes at Mindstream as they relate to the buying process and interacting with vendor reps. Her responsibilities include daily reconciliation of discrepancies and make-goods for radio, TV and cable as well as gathering details and producing weekly television post logs for her buyers in each of their markets as requested by the client. She also enters out-of-home orders and handles traffic for radio and television advertising.


Shelby Clement, Lead of Integrated Strategy was nominated for the Local Planner award.

Shelby has over 20 years of media agency experience across multiple media disciplines including media strategy, media negotiation/buying and account service. Throughout her career she has been involved in a variety of media efforts including leading promotional initiatives, leveraging local paid media to secure bonus airtime to execute cross-promotional activities and data collection efforts, testing various digital platforms for reaching a confirmed target audience as well as managing and providing media investment recommendations for multi-million-dollar client media budgets.

Congratulations to all of this year’s nominees and winners at the Awards of Excellence Gala. We’re already looking forward to next year!


Is Your Media Strategy Ready for the Holidays?

During the onset of the pandemic and throughout 2020, consumers consolidated their shopping trips to fewer retailers. Some did away with unnecessary expenditures due to fear of exposure in-store or newfound financial hardship, while others purchased brand replacements at competing retailers or found more convenient, digital means to procure their favorite products. As a result, brands shifted to a more digital-first strategy and expanded their service offerings to improve the customer experience. Services like curbside pickup, buy online-pickup in store (BOPIS), same-day pick up, free delivery and exclusive discounts became the norm throughout the beginning of the pandemic, but now that consumers have become accustomed to those convenient services and exclusive offers, they’re now expected in order to continue the brand/consumer relationship.

As we move into this holiday season, how are brands looking at consumer-centric service offerings, as well as their media strategy, to stand out in the crowded space of seasonal advertising?

Let’s explore some of the trends from the last year that will continue into holiday season and beyond 2021.

Less physical, more digital

Many national retailers have already communicated that their physical stores will be closed on Thanksgiving day, November 25, but that doesn’t mean sales will stop. Digital deals will be the priority when stores are closed and remain so throughout the holiday shopping season. With consumers having adapted to online shopping over the last year and a half, many now prefer the convenience of clicking or tapping to make purchases, as opposed to visiting in person. And since holiday shopping season has traditionally been associated with long lines and crowds, more consumers will opt to avoid the masses—41 percent, in fact—to save time and feel safer against the continuing pandemic spread.

Retail ecommerce holiday season sales continue to grow and are expected to reach over $206 billion in 2021, according to eMarketer’s Holiday Preparedness Report. That is a 47 percent increase, or over $66 billion, more than the pre-pandemic 2019 levels.

Regardless of whether your brand operates physical locations, consumer demand for digital deals remains strong. In addition, around 40 percent of consumers are looking forward to more digital experiences using AR and VR technology, like home makeovers, beauty product sampling, virtual clothing try-ons, personal shopping, home lighting displays and more.

This growth is being driven by increased ecommerce sales across several categories. Fueled by the return of in-person events, discretionary categories like jewelry, luxury and accessories are expected to see the highest increase at 25.5 percent. Although at a much slower pace, spending on consumer electronics in the form of new devices and wearables is forecast to be the second-fastest growing category at 12.5 percent. Rounding out the top three, strong demand for cosmetics and beauty products will drive a 12.1 percent increase in the personal care and health category.

Earlier shopping season

In 2020, 42 percent of shoppers started their holiday purchasing earlier than in years prior. And this year, over half (53 percent) of consumers will start holiday shopping before November, according to a recent Integral Ad Science webinar.

eMarketer projects the Cyber Five will grow their sales at above-average rates this year while increasing their share of the season from 18.3 percent to 20 percent. Cyber Monday is expected to rake in the most online spending followed by Black Friday and Thanksgiving.

One in three holiday shoppers are planning to spend more this year. Getting early access to discounts and deals is a top priority, with 45 percent of shoppers ranking it as number one on their list.

Advertisers can use the earlier shopping season to their advantage by starting campaigns early and by focusing on connecting with potential consumers at every stage of their journey, from brand awareness to purchase consideration. A partner like Mindstream Media Group can help brands focus on human connection throughout the customer journey, across media channels.

A current exercise we’re conducting is focused on understanding the purchase cycle through a B2B lens.  B2B often has much different needs that normal DTC campaigns don’t encounter such as meaningful lead submissions. This exercise is looking at the business problem, value prop our client offers and their best-in-class solution through creative messaging that reaches not only the final decision maker but influences the other necessary teams.

Loyalty and first-party data

Marketers are now preparing for the demise of third-party cookies in 2022. Brands are developing their own means of collecting data, building out their own consumer profiles and personas and using first-party data to increase ad personalization and relevance to build trust with their audiences.

According to a 2021 Consumer Survey conducted by Outbrain, the top-two factors that drive engagement for consumers are trusted ads that meet their personal interests making personalized and contextually relevant ads important.

In addition to building trust with potential consumers, better ad personalization and relevance pays off. IAS research shows that 76 percent of consumers will maintain or increase their holiday shopping budget from last year. And holiday shoppers are looking to digital ads to contribute to their shopping experience, with 88 percent agreeing that online ads are helpful and important to their gift search.

While some brands already have established their own means of collecting first-party data, others are finding it more challenging to build a strategy to maximize their personalization efforts. Whether marketers are just getting started on the road to a cookieless future or already have data collection methods or loyalty programs in place, there’s no doubt that first-party data will transform the future of advertising.

Utilizing CRM tools has proven to be extremely powerful for a Mindstream client in the fitness space, creating efficiencies and making our ad targeting very precise. Using first-party data from the client, we can create lookalike audiences which profile a set of data points and target users who fit a certain threshold of attributes. We’re able to exclude consumers who are already in the brand’s CRM, eliminating waste, and we can also include consumers who have cancelled memberships, inviting them to come back to the brand after a set period. We can also retarget new customers for additional purchases, such as accessories for their initial purchase.

“Partnering with clients that provide access to their first-party data and key business insights is like a cherry on top for holistic media planning. It helps us create better integrated strategies and that drives better results for the client, so it’s a win for everyone,” says Mindstream Head of Integrated Digital Strategy, Meagan Cox.

Looking to 2022

As more campaigns shift toward personalization and improving the customer experience, we’re certain to see more convenience-related services, virtual brand experiences and consistent evolution of digital ad technology to catch the attention of consumers.

If your brand needs a partner to help improve your marketing effectiveness and fast-forward growth, please reach out to our team.


Take Your Brand’s Temperature: How to Measure Brand Health

The need to establish clear brand awareness and brand health metrics is essential for any new brand awareness campaign. We believe the first challenge is to clarify brand goals according to best practices that will lead to meaningful business results. The second is to ensure those goals are adopted and understood throughout the organization. This is key to long-term planning ability and helps align resources with marketing and business goals. While brand awareness is a significant factor, there are other health metrics that should be monitored to create a full picture.

We recommend measuring total awareness, both aided and unaided, and metrics such as preference, intent to purchase and satisfaction with the customer experience. These will enable a richer view of the brand and show progress as an organization over time.

How to approach this challenge

Brand measurement should be approached on two different paths. We believe in combining a classic brand awareness and health study with a media effectiveness and impact study.

Brand awareness and health measurement study

This is a survey-based study that is conducted quarterly or twice per year at a minimum, and is designed to thoroughly understand how well a brand is known by the target audience, how it is perceived and how it is viewed against competitors. It can also measure attributes such as intent to purchase and mission-based perceptions as well. The study should be customized to the specific goals of the brand and be considered the ultimate measurement; all efforts should be aligned around this data.

Media effectiveness and impact study

Naturally, as a media agency we recommend measuring the impact of media efforts on brand and marketing goals as directly as possible. There are many great tools and technologies to help facilitate the process. The result is enhanced confidence in long-term planning for media and advertising dollars that work harder to achieve specific brand goals.

A media effectiveness study can look at cross-channel media such as TV, digital, video, print and more, understand how they work together and then provide insight on which channels deliver in more effective ways to reach specific objectives. Dollar for dollar it can help identify which tactics and platforms drive greater outcomes. It is not a full attribution study, but a quicker, less costly way to gain insight specifically on media spend and its impact.

This approach is ideal for a new brand launch since it can quickly shed light on how valuable media dollars are performing in the marketplace.

Recommendations for selecting partners and services

There are many services and agencies that can deliver a brand health measurement approach. The ideal partner is one who is a proven expert in creative and effective ways to approach brand and marketing research. They should be able to work quickly to customize for specific needs and deliver a range of research solutions that can lead to real business insights. Of course, a classic brand study is essential, but additional customer experience research can prove helpful as well, especially as the brand grows.

For the media effectiveness study, Comscore offers a variety of cross-channel media impact measurement tools. They can help determine the best option based on the parameters of the study, identify which is best-suited based on needs and aid in planning adequate budget resources. It is best to share media plans as they are developed. They will then examine for feasibility and outline costs and expectations for the study. At the end of the study, Comscore will deliver a comprehensive report of all media tactics and explain which types of media, creative and audiences were most impactful to the advertising goals.

More broadly, to evaluate total marketing ROAS and understand the impact of efforts across all channels, we recommend collaborating with a business partner who has a complete team of data scientists that can quickly recommend a data approach and build a predictive ROI model. Although it has a longer development time window, this type of model is ultimately necessary to forecast and manage marketing spend.

Next Steps

Ready to move forward with brand measurement? Let’s connect. We will review your needs, make recommendations and facilitate conversations with additional agencies or consultants as needed to ensure comprehensive brand health measurement and guidance to fast-forward your business.

How to Get the Most Out of Programmatic Display Campaigns (and Make Sure You’re Not Throwing Money Down the Drain)

Programmatic advertising campaigns have become a force in digital media. But, if you want programmatic display to fast-forward your business, it’s critical to ensure your campaigns are optimized to drive meaningful, positive results for your brand.

To make sure your brand isn’t pouring money down the drain, we outlined 18 questions you should ask your programmatic display agency right away to make sure your campaigns are set up for success. The questions are split into four categories to help you identify any areas that should give you a particular cause for concern. If you see a lot of red flags along the way, it may be time to take a deeper dive into your programmatic campaigns.

If you want to avoid the hassle of doing the audit yourself, contact Mindstream Media Group today to talk to one of our paid media experts about your programmatic display campaigns. 

Programmatic display agency qualities

No. 1: How much is your agency partner charging you based on your spend?

When it comes to programmatic display, there can be several brokers between you and the publisher that serves your ads. The list includes media vendors, ad tech firms, data providers, etc. By the time the bill gets back to you, the price tag could be considerably higher than the publisher’s original cost.


This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If your vendor is working with reputable partners, each cog in the programmatic machine is essential in getting the most out of your media spend. It does mean, however, that you want to choose a partner that’s transparent about their pricing models and partnerships.

No. 2: How much of your media spend goes to viewable impressions?

Here’s a dirty little secret of programmatic advertising: ad impressions don’t always equal ad views. Since programmatic campaigns typically use a cost per thousand impressions (CPM) model, this is a big deal. A few years ago, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Rating Council (MRC) created the following standard for viewable display impressions:

A minimum of 50 percent of (an ad’s) pixels in view for a minimum of 1 second.

So, how do advertisers end up getting charged when their ads aren’t viewable? Well, unfortunately, not everyone follows the rules. Even with that lenient standard, some programmatic display vendors still limbo under the bar. To make sure people can actually see the ads you’re paying for, ask your agency partner what standard they use to qualify viewable impressions. Also, ask to see reporting on how many of your current impressions are “viewable.”

No. 3: Does your vendor have access to advanced planning technology?

Programmatic display advertising is a rapidly evolving practice, making it essential to partner with agencies and tech vendors that are at the head of the pack in terms of innovation. To make sure you have the latest and greatest techniques powering your programmatic campaigns, ask your agency partner questions like:

  • Do you have access to Automated Content Recognition (ACR) technology to better plan and optimize my campaigns?
  • What kind of beta programs are you involved in (either internally or through ad tech partners)?
  • What plans do you have to improve our campaigns in the future with new technologies?

Campaign targeting and scheduling

No. 4: Who are you targeting?

The main reason programmatic campaigns are so powerful is all the data involved. With programmatic, you’re privy to a wealth of information to help you target the right consumers at the right times, but that targeting is only as good as the data that powers it and the strategy behind it.

To make sure your agency partner is targeting the right audience segments, ask them questions like:

  • What targeting methods are you using?
  • What characteristics are you using to define our target audience?
  • What data points do you use to identify those audience segments?
  • What audiences are you excluding?

No. 5: Where are you targeting?

Taking that last question a step further, make sure your audience segments are in the right places geographically. This is especially important for multi-unit and franchise brands that need to target audiences close to their locations.

To make sure your programmatic campaigns are fully optimized, ask your agency partner questions like:

  • Have you set up geo-targeting around our locations to make sure we’re only reaching nearby consumers?
  • Are you able to distribute leads fairly and accurately between locations that are close to one another?
  • Can you run a report that shows the breakdown of impressions by geo-location?

No. 6:  What stage of the customer journey are you targeting?

The most effective media strategies take a holistic, full-funnel, multi-channel approach utilizing a variety of tactics to reach consumers at every stage of the customer journey. Ensure your agency partner is leveraging all of the programmatic channels available within their DSPs including CTV, streaming audio/podcasts, digital OOH, video, native and display to connect with the right users in the right place at the right time.

No. 7: What sites are your ads appearing on?

At Mindstream Media Group, one of our programmatic philosophies is to focus more on who we’re serving ads to than where we serve ads. Having said that, you probably don’t want your ads showing up on sites with explicit content or on publisher platforms whose principals aren’t aligned with your own.

To safeguard your brand’s reputation, find out which sites are included in your programmatic vendor’s network and work with them to block any unsavory sites. If your vendor partner is unable or unwilling to share this list with you, that could be a serious red flag.

No. 8: What schedules are your ads running on?

This question is essential if you’re running direct response ads. For example, let’s say you’re a restaurant running ads that encourage consumers to visit your location, but you’re closed on Mondays. Since you’re not there to serve guests, you probably don’t want to run ads that day.

Pretty basic stuff, right? We agree. Make sure your agency partner does as well.

No. 9: What are your frequency settings?

If you’re like most internet users, chances are you see a lot of ads from the same company. At best, these ads are for things that are relevant to you and are somewhat valuable (you’d probably just like to see less of them). At worst, they’re akin to an overaggressive telemarketer who can’t take a hint. Make sure your brand isn’t “that guy” by finding out what frequency settings your programmatic vendor uses.

Conversely, if you want to generate brand awareness and search lift then the campaigns need to reach a minimum frequency to have the desired effect. Ask your agency to report on these key metrics so that you can maximize your overall goals for the campaign.

Performance metrics

No. 10: How are you measuring the success of your programmatic campaigns?

One of the most important considerations in any marketing effort is to make sure the goals of your campaign align with the business results that your brand values most. To make sure these concepts align, find out what metrics your agency is reporting on to measure the success of your programmatic campaigns.

One thing to look for is the quality of the metrics you see in your reporting. Is your agency reporting valuable conversions like form fills, calls and visits to your location(s)? Or are they simply reporting vanity metrics like impressions and clicks?

No. 11: Is your performance connected to revenue?

Taking that a step further, the ability to connect conversions to actual revenue is important in measuring the overall success of your programmatic display campaigns. Find out if your agency is able to connect your programmatic campaigns to your other tools – e.g., your customer relationship management (CRM) or point of sale (POS) systems – and measure the overall return on investment (ROI).

No. 12: How are you approaching view-through attribution credit?

While programmatic advertising can and should be used as a direct response initiative, digital display ads also excel at building brand awareness and generating conversions well after an ad is served.

For example, let’s say you’re reading an article online and you come across a display ad for running shoes. You like the shoes but you’re really into the article so you continue reading and end up clicking on another link after you finish it. Then you remember the shoes and head to Google to find them.

In a scenario like this, that original display ad deserves some of the credit. This is known as view-through attribution (VTA) – while the ad didn’t directly lead to a conversion, the fact you saw the ad led to a profitable action in the future.

Programmatic campaigns have sophisticated tracking methods that allow advertisers to track these types of conversions, but not everyone uses them. As you audit your programmatic campaign, make sure your agency partner can and does.

No. 13: What is your attribution window set to?

While VTA is key to understanding the non-direct actions consumers take after seeing your ads, there’s a right way – and a wrong way – to set it up. Typically, VTA is most valuable when the conversion occurs shortly after a consumer sees an ad, not weeks or months later.

To make sure your programmatic campaigns are only measuring recent conversions, ask your agency what window they’re using to measure VTA. The appropriate amount of time will vary by brand and product, but if the window is more than a few days, make sure there’s a good reason.

No. 14: Is your vendor able to calculate search lift?

Here’s another indirect metric your agency partner should be able to measure – search lift. Recent data from agency programmatic partner, The Trade Desk, shows that clicks to an advertiser’s site from Google search’s UTM were 8.5 to 10 times more likely to make an online purchase after being exposed to programmatic media.

Programmatic search purchase lift

Programmatic Assisted Search Purchase LiftThe ability to measure search lift is key to understanding what impact your programmatic display campaigns have on purchases and brand awareness. If it’s not already in your typical reporting, ask your agency if they’re able to calculate search lift across the programmatic networks used in your campaigns.

Optimizing campaign creative

No. 15: What creative assets are you using?

One of the biggest mistakes advertisers make with programmatic advertising, especially with video ads, is forcing ad creative from other media campaigns. For example, if you’re running a programmatic video campaign, you need to make sure your creative fits the media platforms you display your ads on. Copying and pasting a TV commercial typically won’t cut it.

Just like with social media, brands should customize their creative for the platforms, and hence, the audiences they are targeting. You wouldn’t use the same messaging on LinkedIn that you would on TikTok, so make sure your programmatic video is appropriate and relevant for your display audiences.

No. 16: What is your creative testing strategy?

A key advantage of programmatic campaigns is they allow you to serve ads based on which ones are most likely to perform well in a given situation (i.e., based on the consumer viewing the ad, the website serving the ad, etc.) But this advantage is null and void if you don’t have enough ads.

Make sure you’re leveraging the full value of programmatic by finding out how many ad variations your agency is running with each campaign. This will not only allow you to run tests to find the most effective creative messages, but it will also mitigate audience burnout from seeing the same ad too many times.

No. 17: How are you leveraging video creative?

Start with asking your programmatic agency a simple question: “Are we using video creative?”

If the answer is no, follow it up with a sternly worded version of this question: “Why the hell not?”

Your programmatic agency might not be responsible for ad creatives, but they should be looking for any opportunities to optimize your campaign and video is a great way to grab consumers’ attention.

No. 18: Are your programmatic campaigns using dynamic creative?

We’ve hit on this point plenty of times, but we’ll say it again: a major perk of programmatic campaigns is that they allow you to determine in real time what message is most likely to resonate with a specific consumer. To fully unlock this power, make sure your campaigns can dynamically adjust creative elements like ad copy, calls-to-action and images based on the specific consumer viewing your ad.

Now that you’ve gotten through all the questions, how did your programmatic campaigns stack up? If too many of the answers were a cause for concern, contact Mindstream Media Group. We can pull back the curtain even further to give you a better idea of how to improve your programmatic display campaigns to get the most bang for your media dollars.

Editor’s Note:  This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated for freshness and accuracy.