Travel Advertising Today & in a Cookieless World

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Digital advertising as we know it is changing. Google announced in early 2020 that they would be joining many other browsers, most notably Safari and Firefox, in sunsetting the 3rd party cookie in 2022–a technology that’s been used for targeting in digital advertising for years. While other browsers have already implemented the strategy, Google’s Chrome has 66% of the market share, so 2022 signifies the true “death” of 3rd party cookies and will change the landscape. Sojern’s goal is to support our partners and advertisers in navigating this change. 

Let’s start from the beginning and look at where online travel advertising is now and what we can expect in the future “cookieless world”. The following blogs in the series will share deeper insights into Sojern’s solutions and how you can prepare. 

Before, the travel advertising landscape was complicated. Due to its nature, (placing ads across magazines, brochures, and specific websites where you thought your ideal customers might be), tracking was impossible. With the evolution of online advertising, namely the shift to programmatic advertising, travel marketers can now find their ideal travelers and engage with them wherever they are organically online, regardless of what website or device they’re on. Most importantly, the impact of the ads placed can be measured and help travel marketers ensure they’re spending where it counts. 

What Programmatic Looks Like Today

In three simple steps: 

  1. A traveler visits a website showing intent to purchase your product. 
  2. When the traveler goes to a different website, algorithms immediately bid to show an ad to the traveler on that website. 
  3. As the website loads, the ad is placed in front of that traveler with the goal of engaging and ultimately, converting them. 

To dig into why 3rd party cookies are going away, let’s walk through the basics of what they do, the difference between 1st and 3rd party cookies, and why this change presents several opportunities for travel marketers and an improved experience for consumers. 

The Function of Pixels

A pixel is a block of code placed on the backend of an advertiser’s website to track a user’s actions as they browse. When someone leaves the website without converting, that data is passed back to Sojern’s servers so we can target them with an ad and influence them to go back and complete a booking on the advertisers’ site. It’s important to note that pixels are a necessary part of this ecosystem and will not be going away with the sunsetting of 3rd party cookies. 

The Role of Cookies

Think of a cookie as a “folder” that collects all of the information about a user’s actions on an advertiser’s website and stores it in the user’s browser. Pixels are what place cookies on the user’s browser. This allows Sojern’s servers to identify and target them with relevant ads, as well as control the number of times they see the ad, which improves the user experience. 

Simply put, pixels are a form of data communication, while cookies are data storage. 

Pixels and Cookies Work Together to Drive Direct Bookings

An example of how this works with Sojern: 

  1. A traveler searches for a hotel room on a website. The pixel on the site records the search, sends the information to Sojern, and stores it in a cookie placed on the traveler’s browser. 
  2. The search data, along with the user’s cookie, is classified anonymously, and is used to show targeted ads based on their interests across various platforms. 
  3. The ads served capture the interest of travelers and drive them to view your website and book directly with you. 

The Difference Between 1st and 3rd Party Cookies

1st party cookies are not going away and will remain an essential piece of advertising to travelers, as they improve the user experience. 

1st party cookies: Remember passwords and preferences to enhance user experience (for example, remembering language preferences), track history from websites visited and collect analytical data, and are stored by the owner of the website in a database. For example, when you log into Amazon, and return later, you don’t need to log in again thanks to 1st party cookies. 

3rd party cookies: Served to websites by scripts or tags from a separate domain (a “third party”), they track history of online behaviors across various websites, and are often set up by ad tech vendors. 

Cookies Don’t Come Without Challenges

Browsers are blocking cookies to make the web a more private and secure place for consumers. While they serve a purpose in the current ecosystem, a major downside is that they do not support targeting across devices, making marketing to a person (people-based marketing), rather than a cookie, not possible. 

3rd party cookies can also be blocked or deleted by the user, and in the case of Safari and Firefox, are blocked by default. Why does this matter to travel advertisers? Targeting Apple device owners, for instance, (who are often high spenders and frequent travelers) isn’t possible through 3rd party cookies. Thus, finding a solution in place of 3rd party cookies presents an opportunity to get in front of bigger audiences to drive more bookings.  

How will the shift from 3rd party cookies affect advertising?

3rd party cookies make tracking website visitors, collecting data, ad serving, retargeting, and cross-site tracking possible. If advertisers don’t prepare for the sunsetting of 3rd party cookies, campaign performance and direct booking revenue will likely be impacted. While this sounds daunting, it’s not all bad. Let’s look at some opportunities that will come from this to improve the consumer experience. 

Current Online Experience for Travelers

The online experience can be disjointed. In today’s landscape, for example, a traveler searches for a hotel in Miami on desktop. The traveler finds a nice boutique hotel and books. Hours later, surfing the web on mobile, the traveler is served an ad for the same hotel they booked earlier that day. This is because 3rd party cookies don’t allow cross-device targeting. 

The Future Experience

Moving away from 3rd party cookies, travel advertisers can market to people, not the cookie. This is called “people-based marketing”. So in the same scenario, the traveler books a hotel room in Miami on their desktop. Later that day, they are on mobile and are served an ad for an activity in Miami. The experience is improved for the consumer due to cross-device targeting. 

Sojern’s Solution to Navigate These Changes 

Our internal task force has worked closely with our partners to put together a comprehensive solution to support advertisers. 

Sojern’s Three Pillars of a Cookieless World 

Hashed emails: A hashed email uses an algorithm to convert an email into a unique, unrecognizable jumble of characters in order to identify and target travelers online. For example, after hashing “Dave@Sojern.com”, the algorithm would provide an unrecognisable string of characters such as “d7984b9599199b83cc213f19cb2906d2”. A hashed email can be collected a few ways, but namely by prompting a login on your website, or after a traveler completes a booking on your website. Then, as that traveler visits other websites, you can target them using their hashed email instead of cookies. 

1st Party Cookie IDs: This is a unique ID advertisers share with us to match their consumers’ onsite activity to their hashed emails – thereby enhancing campaign performance. As noted above, the 1st party cookie ID is something you, as the owner of the website, store and manage. 

Historical Booking Data: We ingest this CRM data to enrich your campaign performance. This can be offline data (agents at a desk, the call center, etc.) or historical online data–you choose what you’re comfortable sharing. 

Stay Tuned

We’ll take a look at each of these 3 pillars in greater detail and how they help and affect your campaign strategies in Part 2 of our Cookieless series.


This post originally appeared on the Sojern website and is reproduced with their permission.

80 DAYS Benchmark
80 DAYS Benchmark
Sojern is built on more than a decade of expertise analyzing the complete traveler path to purchase. The company drives travelers from dream to destination by activating multi-channel branding and performance solutions on the Sojern Traveler Platform for more than 8,500 customers around the globe.