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30-Year-Old Cookie Finally Stale

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The tracking cookie’s final days are numbered. What does that mean for the affiliate channel?

Written by Brook Schaaf

Deprecation of the third-party tracking cookie — long delayed and much bewailed, 2024 appears to be the year. To put a finer point on it, Google Chrome, the leading web browser, is finally set to phase out third-party cookies in the second half of this year. They have long been unavailable in Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge, and were never available in apps.

For the programmatic channel, this means that targeting user groups will be more difficult, which in turn means that advertising platforms probably can’t command as many dollars from advertisers. As a point of comparison, in 2022, Meta announced that Apple’s privacy changes were anticipated to “decrease the social media company’s sales … by about $10 billion.”

What does this mean for the affiliate channel?

First, we are not wholly immune to the change. Depending on the tracking method and program configuration, merchants may need to make adjustments. For more on this topic, check out tracking auditor Moonpull’s blog and podcast. From my perspective, the responsibility for pushing these changes lies with the tracking platforms.

Second, if fewer dollars flow through programmatic advertising, more dollars might flow through affiliate. But that’s not to be taken for granted. In fact, though logical, it appears remote as a possibility right now.

Smart Insights didn’t even list affiliate as an alternative for advertisers but only retargeting, lookalike audiences, targeted segments, second-party data, social and retail media, and contextual advertising. Digiday predicted (paywall) publishers “won’t see any big, immediate gains from the collapse of third-party tracking.” Again, no reference of affiliate, though in another piece “commerce as affiliate plays” is listed as out in 2024, whereas “commerce as retail plays” is listed as in. (A topic for another day.)

So on the positive side, most of affiliate will dodge the deprecation bullet, but on the negative side, the channel seems poorly positioned to take a bigger bite out of the larger online advertising pie — perhaps just a few crumbs will be ours. 

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