The Google ID Is Gone, Now What?

Three obstacles and three priorities marketers must face in a shifting digital landscape

By John Nardone


Malte Mueller/Getty Images

As cookies continue to crumble and data privacy legislation gains strength, advertisers must become more strategic in their approach to digital advertising and measurement.

Google's impending global deprecation of the Google ID in May 2020 will further compound the challenges of this complex new future. Advertisers who haven't made adjustments based on the latest market realities have already fallen behind; those who don't adjust in advance of Google's forthcoming change may be left scrambling to adjust on the fly as their current data and measurement processes fail.

Here's a look at three forces that are fundamentally reshaping the data-driven marketing landscape, as well as three critical moves that advertisers must make to future-proof their digital advertising in 2020 and beyond.


Major Shifts in the Data-Driven Marketing Landscape

The complexity of data-driven marketing has been growing steadily over the past few years, but in the coming 12 months, that complexity will be taking a gigantic leap. These are the three realities that every brand's strategy needs to address:

1. The cookie is crumbling.

Marketers surely cannot complain that they didn't receive ample warning about the waning utility of cookies. The industry has been talking about it for years. The number of cookieless users has skyrocketed, and the effects on ad targeting are very real.


Because marketers don't have data on devices that don't accept third-party cookies, they tend not to target them on the open web. In other words, cookieless users are largely overlooked by many demand-side platforms (DSPs). Apple and Safari users in particular are underrepresented within media plans. An unintended effect is that marketers in Europe now pay a much higher eCPM for cookied users as every brand chases the same shrinking pool of inventory for retargeting and other cookie-dependent tactics.

When marketers turn on the auto-optimize functions within their DSPs, and the technology doesn't see any conversions coming from Apple and Safari users, the technology optimizes even further away from those devices. That might be OK if a brand genuinely doesn't think Apple or Safari users would be interested in buying its product, but one would wager that's not the case for the majority of brands.

The net result of the crumbled cookie is that marketers have to take explicit action to correct this targeting imbalance. They need to be proactive in reaching the iOS and Safari universe through social channels and specific app targeting to cover cookieless users. They cannot afford to take a hands-off approach to automation. Smart brands in Europe have realized that the drastically lower eCPMs available for Safari inventory present an opportunity — especially given the demographic skew associated with Apple products — provided they have the measurement infrastructure in place to prove the obvious value of the media.

2. Privacy legislation is the new black.

What started with the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) last year will reach domestic U.S. marketing in a real way next year in the form of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). Relatively soon, restrictions on the collection, acquisition, and use of consumer data will become ubiquitous. Already marketers in Europe are not able to buy their way into consumers' lives through third-party data, and while the CCPA will not be as restrictive as the GDPR, there will be new rules, more scrutiny, and more cost for third-party data deployed domestically. As a result, marketers will be well served by building first-party databases of consumer data they earn through delivering compelling products and a thoughtful approach to their technology stacks.

The industry has already seen this reality take hold in Europe. The availability of third-party data for purchase is dramatically limited and, as a result, the ability to make offline-to-online marketing linkages is almost nonexistent outside of LiveRamp.

When advertisers lose the ability to tie exposure to behavior, all they have left are clicks — and that's a huge problem.

This trend toward the restriction of consumer data transfer puts the onus on advertisers to become more strategic. Advertisers must now look to build stronger first-party datasets. They can't just purchase them. They have to earn the user's consent to collect data, and be explicit in how that data will be used. In Europe the challenge is now how marketers activate a first-party dataset in a programmatic context, which is third-party by its very nature, underpinned as it is by cookie syncs.

Building these assets begins by offering consumers a compelling value exchange for their data through goods or services. In some cases, that means thinking more like a content provider and putting some creativity behind the development of engaging content. Such content, which must extend beyond a brand's core marketing messages, can be used to draw users to a brand's site, where a demonstrated value exchange for the user's data can occur. These first-party relationships form the basis of a future-focused data acquisition strategy.

3. Deprecation of the Google ID.

The loss of the Google (DoubleClick) ID has been a reality in Europe since the GDPR took effect, but that loss will extend to the rest of the world in May 2020. As a result, many advertisers will lose a critical linkage used to construct their user journeys — the one that helps them connect a user's ad exposures to website behavior. In other words, brands will no longer be able to answer the simple question of whether people who see red ads tend to spend more money on their site than the people who view blue ads — or whether either group spends money at all.

The industry has spent more than a decade trying to break the bad habit of using clicks as a measure of performance but when advertisers lose the ability to tie exposure to behavior, all they have left are clicks — and that's a huge problem. Come 2020, marketers who still rely on the Google ID will have no way to stitch the various advertising technology components in their stack into a coherent dataset for user-journey tracking. They need to be looking for an alternative for creating that linkage — and soon.

The much touted data clean-room solutions offered by Google (ADH), Facebook (enterprise data sharing service), and Amazon (Clean Room Beta) don't provide event-level measurement; they offer cohort-level analytics of their own walled-garden data. Any marketer familiar with multitouch attribution or user-path analysis will recognize how much is missing from such datasets.


Three Critical Moves to Make

Reconstructing campaigns and advertising technology stacks to work around the challenges detailed above is going to take some thought and planning. A sustainable solution will require integration planning and solution engineering that carefully considers how data is acquired and how it passes among systems. At a high level, success will require advertisers to commit to the following:

1. A new ID linkage.

Quite simply, with the Google ID off the table, marketers will need alternatives. Many solutions are being developed or proposed, such as The Trade Desk Unified ID, LiveRamp, or Flashtalking's FTrack ID, but it is unlikely that there will be a one-size-fits-all solution for a marketer's needs. In fact, it's likely marketers will need to stitch together several IDs to solve for different use cases. The challenge will be to orchestrate the various IDs to achieve the required linkage while complying with privacy laws. Going forward, thoughtful strategy is required to tag all advertising and consumer touchpoints appropriately.

This decision is table stakes for the continued ability to understand how ad exposure drives behavior.

2. Better content.

As mentioned above, marketers must double-down on a content strategy and efficient methods of distributing that content. Except for direct-to-consumer brands, whose very value proposition requires consumers to provide their personal data (i.e., commerce or service companies that deliver products and services directly to a person's home), content will likely be the primary value most brands offer in exchange for a person's personal information.

Developing valuable content is only the first step. Distributing that content through social and native advertising must also be fundamentally baked into a brand's strategy. Over time, the resulting engagement with a brand's content will lead to the development of a robust first-party dataset that can fuel marketing activities across channels.

3. Build trust.

Finally, as privacy legislation enables consumers to more easily opt out of brand communications (or never opt in at all), advertisers need to build trust in ways that they haven't in the past. That means establishing trust not only in a brand's products and services, but also in its data policies. In this regard, there's no substitute for transparency.

Brands must be transparent in how they obtain and use a person's information, and their actions must match their words. This approach is the only way to build trust over time and forge deeper connections with consumers.

Today's marketers are up against a lot of significant changes that affect the principles of data-driven marketing in dramatic ways, all of which are largely out of their control. But that doesn't mean advertisers are powerless. They simply need to become more strategic in how they reach their audiences.

By rethinking their reliance on Google's identity linkage, getting creative in their value exchanges with consumers, and establishing a plan to build long-term trust, marketers can combat the formidable challenges presented by today's shifting landscape.

John Nardone is the CEO of Flashtalking, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program. You can email John at



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