We spoke to Adam Rostan, SVP of Product at Rakuten Advertising, for our Cracking Tracking: Network Q&A.


In one sentence, what makes your tracking so good?
At Rakuten Advertising, we put the groundwork in during the early days to ensure our core tracking and attribution processes don’t rely on 3rd party cookies, regardless of the integration method, and that’s why they withstand the test of time. This is backed by ongoing testing that we’ve done with a multitude of clients, which shows little to no impact to their performance.


Now explain to me how it works as if I’m a five-year-old…
Imagine a football team with a player called “Affiliate” who brings in new fans to watch the game. When Affiliate brings in a new fan, they give them a special stamp on their hand to show that they came to the game because of Affiliate. Then, when the game is over, the team looks at all the fans with stamps and gives Affiliate a point for each one. This helps the team know how many fans Affiliate brought to the game and gives them a prize for doing so. Affiliate marketing tracking works in a similar way. We keep track of how many fans each player brings to the game and then gives them accurate credit for it, which feeds into optimisation tactics within our technology like Forecasting and Conversion Journey in our Insights and Analytics Portal.


How are we going to get rid of third-party cookies from the affiliate channel once and for all?
At Rakuten Advertising, we fully embrace the shift towards first-party data. We know that server-side tracking mitigates the challenges presented by Apple’s ITP or changes to Google Analytics and Chrome. Leveraging server-side advertiser tracking and first-party publisher data for affiliate partnerships generates new monetisation opportunities for publishers and allows brands to target the right audience effectively. This creates a win-win scenario for all by allowing publishers to personalise their on-site experience without requiring 3rd party cookies to track users across the internet. Advertisers and Publishers will still need to adapt to the change in user-level fidelity that they may have leaned on in the past for their marketing strategies, but we feel that the timely emergence of generative AI will aid in this transition. Additionally, to help advertisers find and action on hyper targeted audiences, we created Audience Engine – an industry-first solution we specifically built to empower publishers to utilise first-party data for unique commission rates that leverage audiences with the highest potential value for advertisers.


What should best-in-class tracking do?
First and foremost, it should be resilient, reliable and constantly tested! The rapid pace at which our industry is changing means best-in-class tracking must be adaptable to change without requiring heavy tech investments from advertisers. Solutions that track the entire purchase journey, regardless of channel, provide a deeper level of measurement and insights that allow brands and publishers to make smarter optimisations and performance decisions. Importantly it needs to do all of this while respecting the spirit of consumer privacy.


Tell us some of the work you’re doing to push its adoption.
All Rakuten Advertising integrations support tracking without 3rd party cookies. The majority of our advertisers have always had server-side integrations, and those that didn’t, have had their tracking upgraded to support 1st party and server-side cookies.

Since Apple first announced ITP in 2017, we’ve been evolving our processes and technologies to be independent of 3rd party cookies to maintain tracking integrity for publishers. We also recognise the current tracking challenges are industry-wide, so we need to band together to overcome them. That’s why we partner with industry bodies like The APMA to help drive awareness and education. We are constantly testing our tracking and sharing results with our clients, publisher partners and the industry, and we’re also creating an ongoing feedback loop. We’re meeting with our clients and partners to hear their concerns and challenges first-hand and then feeding this into our product roadmap.

Our teams on the frontline are also given in-depth training to ensure they have the knowledge needed to support our advertiser and publisher partners. As Affiliate is becomes more prominent as a monetisation strategy for content publishers, we are also providing education opportunities on affiliate tracking, and more specifically, how it has no dependency on cross-site tracking of users (3rd party cookies) for revenue.


App tracking tends to get overlooked. What are you doing to make sure it doesn’t?
We’re strong advocates for app tracking. We encourage our clients to implement app tracking during the onboarding and program set-up stage. Our app tracking utilises a simple code integration for advertisers, measuring app installs and conversions using any affiliate link promoted within a publisher’s app or mobile webpage. This data then feeds into our industry-leading Insights and Analytics Portal (IAP). Because of this, we have invested in partnerships with Tune, Button, AppsFlyer, Adjust, Kochava, Singular and Branch, and bring the data and insights from these platforms into our Insights and Analytics Portal, consolidating reporting into a central location for advertisers.


There’s so much confusion about tracking because every network uses different terms. Is it essentially all the same?
The underlying tracking concepts are mostly the same regardless of affiliate network or platform. Where it differs depends on how transactions are attributed and commissioned. And that’s where different systems can be a challenge. They use different methods and views of data.


What does the future of affiliate tracking look like?
Affiliate tracking will continue to evolve, and it’s important to have a solution that has the agility to change with the industry – and that requires minimal effort on tech teams when the changes happen. The industry will shift, it will be out with the old and in with the new. As the use of 3rd party cookies depreciate, new innovations will come to light, and AI is will continue to change the landscape and provide new perspectives that can help fill in the gaps as cookies deprecate.

We’re constantly looking at ways to incorporate new and emerging technology to help our clients and publisher partners. We call this Affiliate Intelligence, with innovative insights and technology at the forefront to lead the industry in affiliate marketing.


Thank you to Adam, if you have any questions or would like to get in touch, please email the Rakuten Advertising team.