How automotive marketers can navigate the new cookie-less world in 2024

January 4, 2024

Automotive marketing is harder than it has ever been before.

The industry is going through massive changes, such as the transition to EVs, digitally-native Millennials being the most significant buying segment, and new ways of selling cars like the agency model and online commerce. 

To make matters worse, 2024 is also the year the third-party cookie (finally) dies.

The depreciation of the third-party cookie will have a profound impact on the way that marketers track, optimise and target ads.

So what's going on?

Following the broader trend towards online privacy (like GDPR, ePrivacy, and CCPA), Apple started blocking third-party cookies on iOS back in 2020. 

These changes have significantly impacted how we measure, optimise and target campaigns, with Safari's mobile browsing market share over 18%. 

However, Google Chrome deprecating the cookie starting 4th Jan 2024 will have a far more significant impact than before. 

For automotive marketers, addressing the 3rd party-cookie deprecation can no longer be ignored. 

Why are tracking pixels and cookies important today?

Conventionally, marketers have implemented tracking pixels on websites to send website conversions back to each ad platform using the web browser and third-party cookies.

These website conversions are critical for three essential features:

  1. Measurement
  2. Algorithmic Optimisation - most marketers underestimate the impact of this one!
  3. Targeting

1. Measurement

"You can't optimise what you can't measure". 

With tracking pixels in place on the website, we take for granted the ability to see how many website conversions we achieve from our marketing campaign in the ad platforms and other tools. 

As the third-party cookie is deprecated, we will lose the ability to see these conversions in the ad platforms unless we have an alternative method in place. 

It is likely that a huge volume of website conversions are not visible in your reports today, even before Chrome blocks the cookie. 

2. Algorithmic Optimisation

But I've got web analytics working with 1st-party cookies, so why do I care?!

It is possible to measure website conversions and analytics using first-party cookies, e.g. Google or Abobe Analytics - although even this is now limited to a 7-day window on Safari, i.e. if someone clicked on an ad and returned in 8 days, you would not know that it came from that ad. 

However, the killer feature of ad platform tracking pixels isn't reporting, it's algorithmic optimisation - a point many marketers miss. 

We take it for granted that ad platforms automatically optimise our campaigns for conversions.

Conversion data is used by ad platforms in their machine learning algorithms (AKA AI these days) to find more people like the ones that have just converted on the website. With Meta, this is oCPM Google it is Smart Bidding. 

When you remove the signals, the campaign performance significantly drops, increasing cost per action and decreasing your return on investment. It's the difference between profitable and unprofitable channels. 

3. Targeting

One of the reasons that browsers are blocking the third-party cookie is that it's been exploited for cross-website targeting over many years without user consent - Yes, those spammy ads that follow you around the Internet.

However, with your website, it is possible to ask visitors for consent to the year to add people to audiences for things like retargeting and exclusions. 

The same ad-tracking pixels and third-party cookies are also used to build audiences for your targeting or exclusions.

Without the ability to retarget or exclude people, you will likely continually show people the same ad, even if they have already bought the product from you. This reduces your return on ad spend and isn't a great customer experience. 

What is the solution?

While third-party cookies have sadly been exploited, causing issues with online privacy, it is still possible to track conversions in a compliant, privacy-safe way. 

There are still huge debates and battles over which ethical, privacy-safe technologies to use instead of cookies. 

The landscape is like the VHS vs Betamax wars (or perhaps EV charging standards more recently!), with different organisations, companies, governments and groups jostling to own the winning solution to the problem. 

While we wait for the various targeting alternatives to play out, the best place to start is what you can control today. For most automotive brands, this means;

  1. Website event tracking with explicit consent 
  2. Sending events to add platform conversion APIs server-side.

What are Conversion APIs, and how do they work?

If someone has given explicit consent, you can send the same conversion signals to the ad platform as website pixels did using server-side conversion APIs (AKA CAPI). 

This gives the ad platforms enough signals to do essential jobs like algorithmic optimisation and measuring campaigns to ensure the right people see relevant ads and maintain a good ROI.

Even without the deprecation of the cookie, these conversion APIs offer significant benefits beyond those of website tracking pixels. 

1. Complete control of the data you share

Unlike tracking pixels, you completely control when and what data you share with each conversion API. 

For example, include the make, model and trim when someone completes a configuration so that you can optimise and personalise the campaigns. 

2. Reliability and match rates

Even without the deprecation of the third-party cookie, these conversion APIs allow you to match conversions based on multiple identifiers to help increase the match rate. 

For example, for most website Events, you would send back the click ID from the ad platform that drove the click. However, you might also send hashed personal identifiers like email addresses to increase the match rate to custom audiences using similar technology. 

Again, you should only send these identifiers if you have consent, rights, and a lawful basis. 

By controlling the process of sharing data with each ad platform, you are in complete control to ensure that this vital compliance step is implemented to your standards. 

3. Full-funnel optimisation

Most of the benefits we have discussed mitigate the risk of signal loss with little incremental return on investment. It is like rewiring your house; you are going to end up in a similar place to where you were before browsers blocked the third-party cookie. 

However, Conversion APIs offer one huge benefit that website tracking pixels do not - Full-funnel optimisation. 

For obvious reasons, website tracking pixels can only track website conversions, such as test drive requests and car configuration completions. 

However, with a server-side Conversion API integration, it is possible to send off-line events from your CRM to optimise for things, such as test-drive completed, quote provided, and vehicle purchased. 

This is incredibly powerful for optimising the things that you actually care about rather than a top funnel and vanity metrics like website visits. 

Challenges with Conversion APIs

The obvious challenge with Conversion APIs (CAPI) is that it takes time and money to build an application and integrations to send to each conversion API. 

With over 7 Conversion APIs across all the various ad platforms, the work adds up. Google, Meta, TikTok, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Snapchat and X all have Conversion APIs that you will want to integrate with to ensure high performance with each. 

It is possible to build Conversion API integrations manually, but there are challenges to scale. 

Challenges with custom builds

  • Multiple CAPI channel integrations are required to cover all marketing platforms. 
  • Maintenance is necessary for each Channel + Event Type x Market combination. 
  • Website CAPI-only misses off-site signals, e.g., CRM conversions, native lead forms, and lead validation.
  • It's challenging to set up advanced features like Meta Conversion Leads Optimization and Google Smart Bidding.

This increases the risk of a slow rollout, high maintenance costs, gaps in coverage and potential downtime when APIs change. 

Automotive-specific considerations with CAPI

For retail brands, a conversion window of 7 to 30 days is ample for selling low-ticket purchases. 

In automotive, it's different. The purchase window is typically 3 to 12 months, depending on the vehicle, where its lifecycle is and the customer's lifecycle. 

The conversion windows of the Conversion APIs are limited to 30 days (like the website pixel). For actions like Vehicle Purchases, this needs to be longer. 

As a result, the real value of CAPI is sending higher funnel lead quality signals back to the ad platform. For example, with Driftrock, our automotive clients send back a 'qualified lead' as a signal for optimisation. This could be something like "want to buy in the next 3-6 months". 

How Driftrock can help

Driftrock offers a simple, powerful way to implement Conversions API integrations across multiple channels.
  • A single integration to enable Conversions APIs on all major ad platforms at once.
  • Driftrock makes it easy to add new events, channels, and markets over time. 
  • Driftrock maintains integrations over time as APIs and events are updated. 
  • Live triage, event diagnostics and reporting to ensure maximum coverage and stability. 

By enabling website and CRM Conversions APIs with Driftrock, you can also unlock future capabilities to drive more high-quality leads and sales like native lead generation, increased quality and our new automotive AI assistant. 

How to get started

Most ad platforms have guides on implementing CAPI manually. Each is slightly different in the implementation and what IDs are required from the website, but the premises are the same. 

Getting started on your Conversion API journey with Driftrock is simple. 

  1. Discovery workshop - We start with a tech stack audit to find the easiest route to integrate web + CRM events, as well as discover the kinds of conversion events you need to track. 
  2. Website event capture - Use Driftrock's website script (which can be implemented quickly using your tag management system) to start collecting click IDs for each ad platform and the website events you care about. 
  3. Send data to the Conversion APIs - With the single website integration, Driftrock makes sense of the data and sends the correct info to each conversion API. You can control what data you send to each!
  4. Start optimising your campaigns - Driftrock verifies that the data is being processed by the ad platform correctly, and you can start using it to optimise campaigns right away. 
  5. Advanced features - Driftrock's expert team will also help you enable advanced features like Meta Conversion Leads Optimization that relies on CAPI integrations from Lead Ads campaigns. 

Talk to a conversion API expert today