Monday, March 04, 2013

Firefox's attack on cookies could boost affiliate and performance marketing

Version 22 of Firework will, like Safari, block third party cookies.

This means that ad servers will not be able to use cookies to count impressions for frequency caps or try and target an audience who might actually be interested in the offer. It may be a setback for some of the Display industry but it is a step forward for the privacy advocates.

Jonathan Mayer, a strong voice in the privacy camp, discussed the details in a blog post about it. It’s a helpful post because it helps align Firefox between IE, Chrome and Safari in how the browsers treat cookies.

Mayer wrote patch that will make this change happen.

It’s worth noting that the change does not just target Display ad cookies. All third party cookies will be effected; analytics and social plugins too.

A third party cookie is one that’s being set from a website other than one you’ve actually visited. For example, you might be on displayurl.com while example.com/tracking/ is trying to download a cookie. With Safari and Firefox 22 example.com will have no luck.

The big catch is that if you’ve been to example.com and are okay with its cookies then it’ll not count as a third party cookie.

The Display industry knows that just counting impressions isn’t the metric they’d like. More meaningful analytics can be found by trying to work out viewable impressions (ie, did the web page visitor actually see the banner) and then whether or not, sometime later, that same person transacted or visited the advertiser’s site. Display accountability means being cleverer with cookies.

The affiliate industry is in a different situation. Yes, it makes sense to look at the impact of post impressions for affiliates and the value of data generated by the performance industry. However, the core proposition is that affiliates get paid on an action.

Affiliate tracking kicks in, generally, on a click. A web site visitor clicks on the affiliate link, quickly passes through the affiliate tracking site and onto the merchant. This means, of course, that the affiliate tracking cookie is dropped as a first party cookie.

As affiliates aren’t generally selling impressions, not even clever audience targeted real-time-bid impressions, the fact that cookies can’t be dropped to accompany the displaying of an ad unit is less of a bother.

Okay, yes, some click and reveal tactics used by voucher code sites will be hit. That’s a pretty big chunk of the affiliate pie.

The privacy debate is on-going but the trend seems to be very much in favour of blocking insight, in favour of privacy concerns, at the cost of advertiser information. This may mean less well targeted ads but that’s hardly an argument to use against the privacy crowd; they seem to want it.

As the debate rolls forward and efforts like Mozilla’s third party cookie block continue to hatch it seems likely to be that advertisers will want to ensure as much of their spend is accountable as possible. If affiliate tracking counts as safe – after all, it only pays when it tracks – then surely privacy advances will only make performance marketing all the more attractive.

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