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27 Mar 2024
Marketing | 4 min read

MTA: Better Off Without Third-Party Cookies

Rockerbox - Ron Jacobson Written by Ron Jacobson
on March 27, 2024

A Note from Ron Jacobson, Rockerbox CEO and Co-founder

The myth that third-party cookies are required for MTA has been around for too long. In fact, I’d go so far to say that the whole concept of using third-party cookies as the linchpin for MTA was a failing proposition from the start.

Before I dive into the measurement side, it’s worth asking, if third-party cookies weren’t needed for measurement, what were they actually useful for? Retargeting. Being able to serve anonymous visitors to your website with ads all around the internet is both admittedly somewhat creepy but also a largely effective marketing strategy, questions of incrementality aside. Third-party cookies made this tactic extremely simple to run. And the removal of third-party cookies will make this marketing tactic more difficult to execute moving forward.

So why does this myth exist? Why are people of the belief that third-party cookies are required for MTA? Primarily because this was the technique that V1 of attribution, companies like Convertro and VisualIQ and Marketshare and Adometry used to try to measure marketing. They tried to leverage the Doubleclick UID, a third-party cookie, as the identifier to connect all marketing touchpoints. And while this somewhat worked for the limited scope of programmatic advertising, the “original sin” of these companies emerged once they realized that the Doubleclick UID—or third-party cookies overall—had no role to play in measuring the lion’s share of the ad dollars that their customers were spending on.

What are the channels where third-party cookies had no role in measuring? Let's start with the two biggest—search and social—two channels that ironically make up the lion’s share of dollars spent (~90% by Rockerbox estimates). Search is measured with first-party cookies. And no paid social channels are today or were in the past letting impression tracking pixels—the primary tool to connect views to conversions via third-party cookies—be served on their site. So we’re already at a starting point where ~90% of ad spend has zero reliance on third-party cookies for measurement.

Let's keep going. How about linear TV, direct mail, radio, podcasts, influencers, affiliates or CTV? Which of these require third-party cookies for measurement? None. What is the one channel that did historically have a reliance on third-party cookies for measurement? View through impressions on the open web. What % of ad spend does this correlate to? Across Rockerbox clients, it’s well less than .5%.

So to repeat, anyone that’s fixated on the death of third-party cookies as a reason that attribution is dead is essentially saying that the fact that you can’t leverage third-party cookies to measure view through conversions on the open web renders all MTA unusable. And if that’s your take, you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

So what does a modern approach to MTA look like? What would it be like to build an MTA product from the ground up that isn’t based on third-party cookies (or piggybacking off the DoubleClick UID)? It would look like Rockerbox.

Rockerbox is built upon the foundation of a first-party pixel and first-party data. We’ve built an in-house identity resolution system that isn’t dependent on any one identifier to connect information. Instead, it’s a waterfall across first-party identifiers (phone, emails, addresses) and probabilistic identifiers.

We’ve struck relationships with the largest social platforms in the world—TikTok, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit—that enable Rockerbox to deterministically measure view through impressions. For direct mail, Rockerbox ingests mailer files directly from the companies sending the mail and we do custom in-house match backs. For CTV, we’ve similarly struck relationships that provide Rockerbox with full impression-level logs upon which Rockerbox’s in-house device graph is used for identity resolution.

In areas where user level data isn’t available like Linear TV, we invented Synthetic Events, a statistical methodology that correlates the relationship between aggregate data and conversions. While this methodology is built in-house, it is similar in concept to the modeled conversions that Google and Meta are leveraging for PerformanceMax and Advantage+ respectively.

We leverage promo codes, post purchase surveys, and vanity URLs, all as other ways to measure the impact of marketing. Do you notice the one thing I don’t mention? Third-party cookies. Third-party cookies have no foundation in a modern approach to MTA.

In light of this, the narrative spun by some measurement vendors that the demise of third-party cookies spells doom for multi-touch attribution is misleading. It diverts attention from the question of how MTA should have been built from day one. And the answer most certainly is that it shouldn’t have been built on third-party cookies.

All this being said, is MTA perfect? Is it a silver bullet? Absolutely not. Even if it was possible to build a 100% perfect version of MTA that connected every single view and click across all devices online and offline, would MTA be a perfect tool for measuring and optimizing your marketing? Absolutely not. There is no perfect marketing measurement methodology. They all have pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages. This is a truth that the most sophisticated brands—and frankly most measurement companies these days—know to be true. And this is exactly why Rockerbox supplements MTA with MMM by Rockerbox. And it's also why customers leverage first-party tests and Rockerbox data to validate these tests.

The demise of third-party cookies is not the end of attribution and measurement but a rebirth. At Rockerbox, we are at the forefront of this shift, pioneering solutions that address the complexities of today's marketing landscape while upholding the principles of transparency, integrity, and innovation.

As we navigate this transition, let us not “mourn” the loss of third-party cookies but celebrate the dawn of a new era in digital marketing. An era characterized by deeper insights, stronger partnerships, and a commitment to delivering genuine value to consumers.

The future of marketing is bright, and it's cookie-free. So I guess you could say that our stance on the end of third-party cookies—given that we don’t rely on them at all—is simply this: Good riddance.

No more confusion. Just real marketing insights.

Talk to our team about how Rockerbox can change the way you spend—for the better.