Has Apple brought an early end to cookies in the UK?

The lead image shows an illustration of a broken cookie jar.

Paul Thompson, UK & Netherlands country manager, Seedtag

It is no secret that third-party tracking cookies are about to be consigned to digital history. A well-documented and much-discussed evolution is occurring within the advertising industry. 

A cookieless and privacy-first future isn’t too far away. In the future, people may view it as rather old-fashioned that there was a time where we allowed unfettered access to deeply personal information, such as location and website activity, to multiple third parties who would then use this information to drive consumption. 

Apple continues to lead the way when it comes to consumer privacy and data protection

Interestingly, there aren’t many open talks about how this evolution began — when Apple removed the operability of cookies on Safari in 2017. Now, privacy and consumer data protection have become a key business strategy for Apple, as evidenced by the lack of data available on iOS devices and how little leaks out of their ecosystem.

While Google recently announced its decision to delay plans to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome a year later than expected, this has not stopped the continuous testing of FLOCs across millions of Chrome users. And while this offers a slight reprieve to brands who continue to rely on third-party cookies to target audiences overly, one thing is certain: Cookies, and by-default-tracking, data collection and scale within third-party data, will be gone in a few years. 

However, in typical Apple fashion, the revolutionary tech brand has decided to jump the gun on its competitors — even in the land of data privacy. In a recent iOS update, Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency (ATT). Several apps found on an iPhone will use cookies to follow a user’s movements and other movements outside of the app; ATT enables users to opt out of this tracking.

For those apps — and, perhaps more acutely, the brands that own them — this app tracking feature causes problems for their advertising efforts because they can no longer see what their users and potential customers are looking at. Thus, it becomes more challenging to target them, which, of course, is only a problem if users opt-out of app tracking. 

What UK marketers can infer from U.S. statistics 

The U.K. has been opting into cookies for a few years now since the introduction of GDPR. However, this is likely to do with most publishers making it significantly easier to opt-in than to opt-out. 

For many brands, the bad news is that ATT opts users out of tracking by default. As a result, Flurry Analytics found that 96% of U.S. iPhone users opted out of app tracking when iOS 14.5 was released at the end of April. 

What does this mean for the U.K.? Though the research is U.S.-based, it might not be a giant leap to suggest that similar results have transpired across the Atlantic Ocean. And, according to StatCounter, 48.97% of U.K. smartphone users owned an iPhone in August 2021.

In short, a case could be made that very nearly half of the U.K. is operating without cookies on mobile devices. With mobile internet penetration in the U.K. currently set at 91.4% in 2021, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that some brands can no longer reach iPhone users, and in turn, nearly half of the U.K. population. 

The U.K. is one of the most advanced nations, with one of the highest internet penetration rates globally. For a significant number of brands, it is a crucial geographic area, and they must be able to target audiences within the market. However, without cookies, some of the most effective advertising teams on the planet will suddenly struggle to create effective campaigns.

Tried-and-true advertising methods are being thrown out with third-party cookies

Many brands have focused on spending money with two giants of the tech world: Google and Facebook. Whether the focus has been on ad spend, marketing or PR, so much activity is geared toward building a presence on these two platforms. 

This tried and tested method is being thrown out the window alongside cookies. Advertising in the future comes through spending budgets on premium publishers — quality journalism where the very best content is being produced, and even more importantly, consumed, at a significant rate.

The news cycle will continue to spin, and the public will always want the latest information, the hottest gossip and the most controversial takes. That appetite is never fading, and brands can position themselves in front of millions of the most relevant audiences with the right ad published at the right time in the right place through the power of contextual solutions. 

By tapping into the power of these solutions earlier, marketers can better reach audiences with relevant content in safe environments and ultimately deliver more effective ad campaigns.

Preparing for the cookieless future

While Apple has not yet removed cookies from the UK altogether, it has turned the tide on how advertising within the nation must be approached.

Brands must rethink their strategy. 

Without cookies, efforts must become more creative and potentially focus on contextual data. Ads must be more visually appealing and fit seamlessly into content — enhancing the user experience rather than disrupting it while remaining highly targeted. 

The advertising industry is at the very beginning of significant change, and advertisers must react now or fall behind. While it may come with a few challenges now, cookieless strategies and solutions are the future, and the old ways of targeting with cookies will seem antiquated soon enough.

Sponsored By: Seedtag


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