Google Delayed the Demise of Cookies. Again. Now What? | ANA

Google Delayed the Demise of Cookies. Again. Now What?

Marketers can't let the latest postponement go to waste

Harry Campbell/theispot.com
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The cookie didn't crumble. But it will. Maybe. Google's decision in late April to delay its plan to deprecate third-party cookies on its Chrome browser until 2025 — the third time the tech giant has decided to postpone the full deprecation — provides yet another reprieve for brand marketers who have yet to fully prepare for the move that was supposed to happen in the fourth quarter of this year. But when it does finally happen, the jettisoning of cookies will fundamentally alter how advertisers track, target, measure, and optimize their campaigns. Angelina Eng, VP of measurement, addressability, and data center at Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), says the eventual demise of third-party cookies signals a critical shift for both advertising technology and marketing technology stacks.

Indeed, the influence of the Chrome browser is hard to underestimate, with 65 percent of internet users worldwide in tow and Apple's Safari at a far distant second place with 18 percent, according to Statcounter. "As the industry experiences a loss of traditional data signals, brands must dismantle internal data silos and embrace integrated data models," Eng says, referring to the loss of third-party cookies.

The acid test for marketers amid the transition away from cookies is whether they can successfully combine and share data across different parts of the company to get a comprehensive view of their customers.

"A significant indicator of an advertiser's preparedness for the cookieless future is whether they're working across disciplines in their organization," says Ben Dreyfuss, managing director, U.S., at Noise Digital, part of ANA member Havas Media Network, whose clients include Famous Footwear, Michelin, and Sanofi.

"The best marketers are partnering with their IT and/or commercial teams to integrate key business metrics into their marketing data capture efforts to accurately measure the business impact of media," he adds, "and then use those outputs as optimized — and where possible, automated — inputs into their ongoing marketing efforts."

This transitory period presents both a challenge and an opportunity as marketers scramble to develop fresh data strategies and prepare for the change.

"By analyzing the quality of media and creative, advertisers can enhance performance without tracking consumers," says Marc Guldimann, CEO of ANA member Adelaide, which works with brands like Diet Coke, the NBA, and Skoda. "That's the direction the industry should follow."

Groundswell for Online Privacy

Google's latest postponement comes amid growing calls in the past several years to enhance consumer privacy online, with ground zero being 2018 when the European Union enacted its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation. The Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), which formed in 2019, includes several of the globe's top brands and companies. Its mission is to reduce harmful content on digital platforms and make the web a safer environment for both consumers and advertisers. (The ANA is part of GARM.)

"Savvy marketers are shifting focus to understand the quality of input, instead of coming up with new ways to fight the pro-consumer privacy movement."
— Marc Guldimann, CEO of Adelaide

In the U.S., nearly 20 states have passed comprehensive privacy bills or are in the process of doing so, with rumblings for federal legislation.

"This evolution toward privacy-compliant data integration can be facilitated through the establishment of industry standards and the promotion of best practices, ensuring that data collection and targeting prioritize user privacy and regulatory compliance," Eng says.

Most consumers won't mind. According to the 2024 European Consumer Trends Index, which surveyed more than 7,000 consumers, 62 percent of respondents described ads served to them through third-party cookies as "creepy."

"Savvy marketers are shifting focus to understand the quality of input, instead of coming up with new ways to fight the pro-consumer privacy movement," Guldimann says.

Dealing with that new reality will hinge on marketers' ability to harness first-party data, or information that a company collects directly from its customers and can be leveraged to provide more personalized messaging.

"Many big companies have still not adopted proper first-party data collection," says Jeff Ragovin, CEO of ad tech platform Semasio, whose clients include Audi, the Farmer's Dog, and Poland Spring. "It will be paramount for them to focus on this for the future."

Marketers seem to be increasingly aware of the stakes. A recent IAB study found that 71 percent of brands, agencies, and publishers are currently growing or planning to grow their first-party datasets this year, up significantly compared with the rate of just two years ago (41 percent).

The study, based on the responses from more than 500 advertising and data reps at brands, agencies, and publishers, also found that about 80 percent of companies are providing or planning to provide data and privacy training. "Executives are taking notice and funding the right initiatives for the next stage of industry growth," says David Cohen, CEO of IAB.

The IAB study found that nearly 80 percent of companies polled are training or are planning to train their staff in data privacy topics, and 49 percent are creating dedicated teams for the matter. One area that is commanding growing attention is identity.

"In the post-cookie world, marketers should consider the identifiers they need to use to reach their target audiences on the channels through which they're consuming media," says Kristina Prokop, GM of audience solutions at data analytics company Dun & Bradstreet. "This foundational knowledge can support understanding and performance measurement of campaigns moving forward."

Prokop says marketers must develop strategies using alternative IDs like universal IDs, device IDs, and contextual data to prepare for a cookieless future. For example, universal IDs are designed to enable privacy-safe and precise targeting on cookieless browsers, enabling marketers to engage customers through new channels. "There are new measurement strategies that are available leveraging identifiers and account-level de-anonymization, [which] can measure engagement and capture signals from ad exposure to conversion," Prokop says.

Surge for Retail Media Networks

Retail media networks (RMN), which have become increasingly popular among brand advertisers, are expected to be one of the beneficiaries of a cookieless environment.

According to eMarketer, U.S. retail media ad spending will total $59.98 billion this year, up nearly 30 percent from 2023.

"Given that retail media networks are powered by valuable transactional data and behaviors, we will likely see retailers and CPG [consumer packaged goods] brands moving toward using these platforms to serve relevant advertising," Prokop says.

Guldimann agrees but adds a caveat: "RMNs face significant measurement challenges, and it's going to be very hard to understand frequency and incrementality without a cross-channel or even cross-RMN identity solution."

Bridging the Gaps

Marketers can brace for a post-cookies future by tearing down antiquated methods of targeting consumers and fostering new ways of leveraging marketing technology.

"Marketers cannot build solutions in a vacuum," Dreyfuss says. "So, while it might not be the last excuse for breaking silos, it is a great opportunity, and you can argue it's done a better job at facilitating collaboration more than the best management initiatives ever could."

By leveraging emerging technologies such as generative artificial intelligence (AI) and data clean rooms and building direct consumer relationships, the industry can navigate this significant transition and maintain effective marketing performance.

Employing AI to bridge data gaps and integrate data clean rooms facilitates secure data analysis without compromising privacy, according to IAB's Eng.

"Advertisers should also prioritize ethical data usage, employing contextual advertising, and developing robust measurement strategies using first-party data and privacy-preserving APIs [application programming interfaces]," Eng adds. "Incorporating correlation analysis and inferred data within these strategies helps predict consumer behaviors, ensuring that insights remain detailed and relevant in a privacy-focused digital landscape."

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Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine is a New York-based writer and content specialist. He served as Adweek's technology editor for years and has written for Ad Age, Campaign, The Drum, Brooklyn Magazine, and The Brooklyn Rail, among other publications.

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