Emptying the Cookie Jar: Advertising in a Privacy-First World

Although there have been push backs and delays – potentially due to the recent scrapping of FLoC – it’s becoming inevitable that we will see third-party cookies crumble. Hey, don’t groan, there has to be a cookie pun in here somewhere!

In the next year, Google looks to fully depreciate the third-party cookie, which makes sense with users as well as regulators looking for more privacy online (and why not? You wouldn’t like someone following you round a store taking note of everything you looked at!) With the end date looming, should advertisers take action now – or ignore it and hope for the best?

Third-party cookies, although already phased out on some browsers, have for years been a source of knowledge for brands who use them to track visitors as well as to collect data for targeted advertising. The reliability of this has been questioned and you’d probably get a different answer from everyone you asked. With the ability to opt-out of cookies after GDPR came into play, the question is: how big of an impact will there be on targeted advertising when they’re completely gone? Some advertisers are concerned that it will result in incomplete customer mapping and inaccurate measurements of the full user journey, while others look forward to future innovation on privacy-first ad delivery.

41% of marketers believe their biggest challenge will be their inability to track the right data.[1]

Although Chrome isn’t the first browser to phase out the third-party cookies, it is the biggest. Chrome had almost 60% of the web browser market share in 2021 – also accounting for more than half of all global web traffic. Safari and Firefox, which have blocked third-party cookies since 2013, make up a far smaller share.

Most used website browsers 2021
Source: Statista [2]

Without Chrome-based third-party cookie data, you’ll still be able to leverage and target using Google Ads, powered by first-party cookies and the Privacy Sandbox tools. Google has also been testing other methods, with FLoC-based cohorts that track groups of people rather than individuals and a more recent replacement: Topics API. Although there is limited information available regarding Topics right now, what Google has said so far is that a user’s Chrome browser will select a list of the top five topics a user is interested in, based on their web history, which will be stored for three weeks before being deleted. Google has said that these categories “are selected entirely on your device” and don’t involve “any external servers, including Google servers.” When you visit a website, Topics will show the site and its advertising partners just three of your interests, consisting of “one topic from each of the past three weeks.” It won’t include any “sensitive categories” like race or gender. The Topics API is also being designed to put the user in charge, with the ability to see Topics, remove ones they don’t like and the ability to disable the feature entirely.

Even though the door might be closing on third-party data, it isn’t all doom and gloom for advertisers. There are plenty of alternative advertising methods already available. While third-party data allows for targeted ads based on user profiles, contextual advertising works by matching the content of a webpage with the content of an ad. 

Instead of using data about the user, the automated system displays relevant ads based on the content of the page. In-content ads have been making a comeback, with improvements to AI & deep learning technologies, as they are able to deliver relevant, non-disruptive content in the right environment – based on what the user is searching/browsing in real time, rather than based on past behaviours. 

As well as contextual advertising, advertisers will be able to harness new paid social approaches. Social offers advanced audience features alongside reporting and insight tools from an always logged-in audience, who are identifiable without being reliant on third-party cookies. Campaign effectiveness on social, or at least the ability to measure it, has been affected by privacy updates in recent times with iOS 14 having the most notable impact. Market research suggests a high opt-out rate for Facebook tracking (some saying as high as 95%), which has had a detrimental effect on attribution in conversion campaigns.That said, paid social is still a great tool for all stages of the marketing funnel/flywheel. It provides a huge and diverse audience pool to target, as well as a positive ROI for those lower funnel conversion goals. It’s especially relevant when combined with strong messaging and content that engages and captures users attention in a crowded, noisy digital world. 

The end of third-party cookies will by no means be the end of targeted advertising. With various options and solutions, the key will be to test and learn what works best either for your business or client. There is no one size fits all approach, but knowing what works well and where the potential is for the future will help to stay ahead of the curve and better anticipate an ever-growing market of digital advertising.

[1] – https://www.getapp.co.uk/blog/2175/collecting-customer-data-post-cookie-world
[2] – https://www.statista.com/statistics/268299/most-popular-internet-browsers/
[3] – https://blog.google/products/chrome/get-know-new-topics-api-privacy-sandbox/ 


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