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.

What You Need to Know About Native Advertising

Let’s talk about a massive advertising opportunity that has been flying under the radar for a lot of advertisers. It’s not that advertisers have ignored this opportunity, it’s more that they don’t really understand it. The opportunity we’re talking about is native advertising – a misunderstood format with serious potential for brands.

In 2021, U.S. advertisers will spend over $57 billion on native ads, which represents almost two-thirds of all digital display spending. In other words, it’s a pretty big deal. Still, even in the marketing and advertising worlds, not everyone is 100 percent sure what native advertising even means or what types of ads fall under its umbrella.

Some of that uncertainty lies in the nomenclature. When someone says “TV commercial” or “paid search ad” it’s fairly simple to figure out what they mean. But “native advertising” isn’t as intuitive. So, let’s take some time to peel back the layers of this [native advertising] onion and help marketers like you understand how to incorporate native advertising into your Q4 2021 and 2022 media strategy.

What is native advertising?

Let’s start with a softball question: what is native advertising? Here’s a simple definition from our friends at eMarketer:

“Digital display ads that follow the form, feel and function of the content of the media on which they appear, be it a webpage or an app.”

The key to native advertising is its non-disruptive nature. Ads don’t really look like ads; they integrate so smoothly with the page content and design they feel natural or “native.”

What do native ads look like?

Native ads come in several formats and on a variety of channels and platforms. Here’s a look at some of the more popular native ad formats.

In-feed ads

In-feed ads are paid social media posts that display in users’ feeds along with organic posts, usually with the denotation “Promoted” near the top of the post.

Native advertising - In-feed ads

Sponsored content

Sponsored content includes ads for online articles, blog posts and other content pieces that show up in the sponsored content section on publisher sites (typically below an article from that publisher).

Native advertising - Sponsored content

In-app reward videos

In-app reward videos appear in mobile apps and reward users for watching (e.g., Pandora videos that offer extended periods of uninterrupted listening after users watch them).

In app reward videos

How can I use native ads in my digital media strategy?

For creative advertisers, native ads offer plenty of opportunities to drive results throughout the consumer buying journey. The key is focusing on your target audiences’ needs, demonstrating how you provide value to those audiences and building purposeful campaigns. After you lock in those three components, it’s a lot easier to decide which formats to use.

Focusing on your target audience

Before you start building your campaign, make sure you have a clear idea of the types of consumers you’re trying to reach. Conduct in-depth research into your target audience to figure out their needs and wants, what media channels they frequent and how they prefer to interact with brands.

Demonstrating your value

Once you understand your audiences, identify how your products and services address their needs. Your ad messaging should center on that value proposition in a way that resonates with specific consumers.

Building campaigns with a purpose

Ask yourself “what specific results do I want native advertising campaigns to drive for my brand?” Make sure your team understands what you’re trying to accomplish and the metrics you plan to measure success against.

What does the future have in store for native advertising?

2021 is already a huge year for native advertising. Despite slower growth in 2020 due to the pandemic, native ad spending grew by over two billion dollars in 2020 and has increased by over 22 billion since 2018.

U.S. native digital display ad spending


Mobile channels, programmatic platforms and social networks are the main drivers behind this increase. And, since there’s a lot of overlap between the channels, there are plenty of opportunities to run campaigns that incorporate all three.

Native ad formats like video and sponsored articles are becoming more popular as well, which has taken a chunk out of social media’s share of the ad spend. But social ads will still account for around three-quarters of native ad spend in the foreseeable future.

Percentage of native ad spending


There’s also a lot of growth happening in native advertising. Ad tech companies are building out the infrastructure necessary to handle large-scale programmatic native advertising campaigns that have:

  • The ability to test multiple creative messages
  • More sophisticated audience targeting
  • Better tracking and measuring capabilities

For brands, this means the already warm waters of native advertising should heat up even more with increased engagement and higher conversions. If your brand is interested in diving in, contact Mindstream Media Group to learn how our native advertising solutions can help Fast-Forward Your Business.

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

Harness the Power of TikTok for Your Brand

Thanks to its engaging and interactive environment, TikTok is the perfect platform for brands to connect with consumers in an entertaining way. The short-form video app allows users to create 15 to 60-second videos with filters, musical overlays, effects, text and stickers. The ability to create videos up to 3 minutes in length is now in the process of being rolled out platform-wide to give users even more flexibility to express themselves creatively. Since COVID-19 hit in early 2020, users have been creating new trends and tactics to engage with each other weekly. With the continuous rise of the platform’s popularity and user base, brands can interact with users by producing organic videos, creating paid advertisements or partnering with influencers.

How it Works

To post organically, brands must first create a TikTok profile. The account will then be verified by a platform rep. Making your own videos and creating easy trends to engage users is highly encouraged. The best piece of advice? “Don’t make ads, make TikToks.” The majority of users go onto the app to find funny and engaging content. TikTokers crave inspiration and love discovering new things. In fact, 67 percent believe that the platform gives them ideas about new brands and products.

Videos, influencers and ads are displayed on the platform’s main feed, or “For You” page (FYP). The FYP curates videos created in the last 90 days giving them a chance to be seen by many users or even go viral. Because trends change weekly on TikTok’s fast-moving platform, businesses should upload content that is up-to-date and encourages user interaction and creativity. An informal approach to advertising as opposed to the media-focused approach typically used on other platforms, such as Facebook tends to work best.

Why Use TikTok?

TikTok is the fastest-growing social platform and a newfound place in which advertisers can get noticed. Paid advertising on TikTok is a great option for businesses who are wanting to expand their brand awareness within the platform. Organically, the platform has excelled, and now with a multitude of advertising options available, it has become a place for consumer brand discovery and a wealth of unplanned purchases—much to the delight of advertisers. Users associate products with TikTok because the platform makes it easy for organic posts to go viral. For example, in the “TikTok made me buy it” trend users share an item they first saw used on TikTok, which leads other users to go out of their way to find and buy the product.


With nearly 79 million U.S. users, the platform is highly popular among younger audiences, specifically Gen Z (born 1997 – 2015) and Millennials (born 1981 – 1996). In fact, these two generations account for approximately 83 percent of the TikTok users in the U.S. As ‘trendsetters’ within the platform they tend to create new content regularly. Creatively speaking, the platform is flooded with new trends weekly which has helped contribute to its rise in popularity.

Advertisers can choose to target based on demographics such as age or gender, and geographic location by state or DMA. Interest targeting based on the videos a user may be interested in seeing is also available. Behavioral targeting focuses on how the user recently interacted with videos and creators within the platform.

Custom audience features are available for clients who are interested in targeting consumers who have already engaged with their business. To use these, clients must upload a list with a minimum audience size of 1,000 that matches with app users. The lookalike audience feature can then be used to help advertisers find new audiences with similar interests as their current customers.

How Advertisers Can Leverage TikTok

Advertisers can choose from the following objectives for their paid TikTok campaigns:

  • Awareness/Reach
  • Consideration/Traffic
  • Conversions
  • Video Views
  • App Installs

Campaigns can be optimized for impressions, clicks, video views or conversions. We recommend that clients start with the brand awareness objective to help align future ads with their audience. TikTok does have an option to incorporate a pixel on the client’s site, which can help optimize campaign ad delivery, build out marketing audiences and measure ad performance. With iOS 14, the platform is following similar approaches as Facebook, primarily by establishing a 7-day click-through. TikTok will also support measurement and optimization based on SKAdNetwork API. Below are the advertising opportunities currently available:

  1. Top View
    • National buy.
    • Ads appear when a user first opens the app.
  2. In-feed Native Video
    • 5-15 second video ads that show up on the “For You” page.
    • In-feed video is still the only format bought in the self-serve ads manager platform. Minimum campaign spend is just $25 per day.
  3. Hashtag Challenge
    • National buy.
    • Sponsored hashtags encourage user-generated content, engage users and attract influencers.
    • Minimum budget of $130K.
  4. Brand Takeover & Top View Takeover
    • National buy.
    • Brands can choose an image, GIF or video ad to dominate a specific topic for the day.
  5. Boosted TikToks
    • Promote organic posts.
  6. Branded Effect
    • Lenses that users can try out for themselves.
    • Lenses are created by the in-house TikTok creative team.

Brands can allow users to download videos from their ad campaigns if there is a special promotion they are offering to users through the video. Brands also have the ability to turn off user commenting and may disable the video download feature if they do not want users saving brand videos for their own personal use.

Ads in Action

With TikTok’s ability to reach younger audiences and geo-target at the DMA level, the platform aligns with the current Gold’s Gym media strategy. An initial test of the platform is now underway to determine if awareness from TikTok can drive incremental memberships and free passes.



Creative Best Practices

Creative uploaded to TikTok should be vertical video format with music and/or voiceovers. To amplify the user and brand experience, video assets should look native and fit the ad specs ratio 9:16. There are also text and video editing options within the native app.

Brands and users alike are encouraged to be authentic, showing your truest, most genuine self. Going hand-in-hand with authenticity is showing your human side. TikTok users would much rather see the face(s) behind a brand as opposed to all products, all the time. Let your personality shine through and show the people and emotions behind your brand.

To encourage interaction and engagement with users, ask questions, invite them to create their own videos using your brand and make sure to keep the conversation going.

Pay attention to trends, challenges and hashtags. Find new trends on your Discovery page and create your own content with a unique spin to catch users’ attention.

While trend awareness and participation are a must, TikTok is also a place for brands to get creative to test playful, lighthearted content that may not fit on other social channels. TikTok is a great platform to test new content and gauge your followers’ reactions.

Sometimes it’s not about creating great advertising; instead, it’s about creating great entertainment. Tell a story, keep it joyful and have fun.

Top Takeaways

  • Sound and visuals are key when uploading content to TikTok.
  • There are nearly 79 million TikTok users in the U.S.
  • Trends are important, but brands also need to get creative and add their own spin to get noticed.
  • Don’t make ads, make TikToks—engaging content that gets users eager to interact.

Not sure if TikTok is the right platform for your brand or need help getting started? Contact us to discuss the potential for tapping into audiences that align with your marketing objectives and social media strategy.