As advertising bought via real-time bidding platforms sees its volume accelerate, the rich audience data attached to these targeted audiences becomes all the more important. The browser cookie remains the coin of the realm and the critical element in the whole complex infrastructure. Remove that simple, antediluvian (in Web years) element from the value chain, and the potential value of any user/browser in the new ad economy plummets.
And so I was struck by one small tease tucked within Casale Media’s quarterly report on RTB. There was one notable wrinkle in the ongoing success story of real time bidding and programmatic buying’s march to dominance in the digital ad world. There may be initial signs that consumers opting out of the cookie economy is having an effect
Between Q3 2012 and Q4, Casale observed an increase in the number of users it was seeing with no cookie in their browser to read (from 15% to 16%), withan even more dramatic rise in the share of users who had a cookie but no third-partry data attached to it (33% in Q2 to 37% in Q4). Andrew Casale, VP of strategy, Casale Media. tells me that this was the first quarter they began tracking the metric, which they did because, “we did observe a relatively flat trend in previous periods, which suggested that this drop in availability is a recent phenomenon and one that we will now start tracking in future quarterly reports.”
The report contends that this increase in the share of users either without cookies or without third-party data is likely a result of enhanced public awareness of do-not-track and opt-out mechanisms. As browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer make the do-not-track flag or cookie blocking the default modes,this share is likely to rise.
Mozilla announced recently that it was about to enact a browser mode that only allowed cookies from sites users actively visited and block cookies from third parties like ad networks, exchanges, etc. Casale says that the impact could be severe based on the precedent already established by the Apple Safari Browser. “As we observe through the browser activity from Safari, people rarely roll that setting back.”
The three major cookie states have substantially different prices on the RTB market. If a cookie with third-party data is indexed as the norm (100), then the winning bid price for users with a cookie and no third-party data falls to 77, while a user with no cookie indexes at 48. “If the trend continues, there may be a decline in average WBP as available third party data becomes scarcer, leading to a higher proportion of users falling into the ‘No Cookie’ category,” the report states.
If this trend continue and proves significant, then yet another layer of metrics is called for: What advertising segments and audiences are most impacted by the passive or active removal of these audiences from the data ecosystem online? Is there a profile of the typical un-cookied user, so that we can better understand what part of the audience is being excluded from targeting? Will be see more or less pricing impact on certain segments?
Perhaps there will be a new weird category of “undocumented browsers” out there. So much hand wringing has gone on over how aggressive cookie blocking and DNT flags will “break” the ad infrastructure, yet there hasn’t been enough time actually exploring what a digital world of uneven cookie presence looks like.