The state of digital advertising
has reached a tipping point. The
days of the cookie, specifically
third-party cookies, are numbered. Google Chrome has announced a plan, that many were expecting, to 'phase out' support for third-party cookies, which will take two years. This article explains the recent developments, and what brands should do to mitigate the impact of a cookie-less ecosystem.
At its May 2019 I/O conference, Google gave the first indication it was going to make it much easier for an end user to block 3rd party cookies. It signaled that developers would need to explicitly identify if theirs is a cross-site 3rd party cookie, making it easier for the user to block. As of 14th January 2020, this direction is being brought to a conclusion, with Google giving 3rd party cookies a two year notice before becoming ‘obsolete’, as announced by Justin Schuh, Director at Chrome Engineering. As Google Chrome is the world’s most popular browser with around 60% market share (most of the remainder is Safari and Firefox where these changes are already in force) there are significant implications for how adtech operates.
Google has been signalling this change for some time, with user privacy and fingerprinting often highlighted in recent announcements. The initial move of 'SameSite' coming into effect on February 5th 2020 on Chrome 80. This will alter how Chrome interprets the SameSite attribute that can be appended to cookies. Up until now this has been set to assume all cookie data can be shared across domains, unless otherwise stated. However, in February the default will be to assume cookies are for the use on the site of origin only, so no data will be shared. The impact of this is already hugely underestimated, but the 14th January announcement shows how this change was merely a signpost to the ultimate goal.
In reality, it is changes that other popular browsers, by both Apple with Safari and Mozilla with Firefox, that has forced Google to follow suit to strengthen consumer privacy. But considering Google’s dominance of adtech, the consequences are far greater. Google’s owned and operated platforms of Search and YouTube will not be impacted. But the rest of its ad network will, with it becoming harder to target and measure in this platform.
There are still a lot of questions on how adtech will function within Chrome without 3rd party cookies. Many of which will be answered from the much talked about Chrome privacy sandbox. It is very unlikely this will provide everything marketers want, but as 3rd party cookies become redundant, the way the ecosystem operates will have to change. But with many innovative ad tech companies searching for solutions over the next two year, a new way of buying and measuring web based advertising will evolve.
What this means for advertisers
With this update, it will fundamentally change advertising as we know it today.
It will dramatically reduce the ease, or put an end completely to some of the ways of working we take for granted today. For example, targeting your own 1st party audiences online, non click based conversion tracking and retargeting your customers are all currently dependant on the third party cookie.
Whilst this information sounds alarm bells, its not all doom and gloom. Google want to work with the wider industry to develop alternative, more secure and privacy compliant solutions for the above. There are already companies outside Google out there now that can facilitate the privacy complaint matching of your customers online. There are, and will be, alternative solutions.
To mitigate the impact of the loss of the 3rd party cookie, there are steps advertisers can take:
Assess risk to current practices
You need to assess your exposure to 3rd party data tracking. The first step is to run an audit of how the technology your marketing is built on is dependent on 3rd party cookies to track users.
Develop a 1st party data strategy
Advertisers will still be able to drop 1st party cookies from their sites, so owned-property based tracking will remain unaffected. By appending this cookie to a persistent identifier, such as email or phone number, brands will retain the ability to target those users on external properties, e.g. publishers, who would also be tracking these identifiers.
Build your non-track strategy
A non-cookie world does not mean the end of online targeting capabilities. Tactics such as contextual targeting, geo and time targeting, in isolation or combination, offer powerful targeting opportunities to advertisers.
Please reach out if you would like to understand how this could impact your business. We have explored this topic further in our 'Digital advertising in the post-cookie world' report, which you can download here.