05 Aug 2020

What does the end of third party cookies on Google mean to marketers?

On January 14, 2020, Google announced its plan to join Safari and Firefox in blocking third-party cookies in its Chrome web browser. Unlike others, Google intends to take a phased approach to this over two years.  The impact will be to radically shift the way ad tracking and privacy work on the web. Whilst Google have promised to institute a new set of technical solutions for various things that cookies are currently used for, there is a lot of confusion and differing opinions in the market about what this will mean for marketers.

We asked 4 industry experts from different perspectives, what they thought:

Nic Halley, Founder - Mindbox

In the immortal words of Douglas Adams – Don’t Panic

The first thing we need to do is keep this in perspective. Cookies are an old, inefficient technology that’s well past its use by date - there’s no common identifier between users, you can’t share data between them, there’s too bloody many of them, most brands still haven’t figured out frequency capping (The Iconic, i’m looking at you), and let’s not mention mobile.

Whilst the humble cookie remains the only way to distinguish one user from another on the free internet, the tech companies have been telegraphing their intentions for a while now and The Goog has put a 2 year time frame on Chrome, which represents 53% of the Australian market.

So does this mean no more tracking, multitouch attribution and tools like 360 are finished? Well yes, if you assume that the people killing cookies didn’t have a solution ready to replace it, a situation being watched closely by many governments readying antitrust challenges at such a blatant potential landgrab.

The way digital functions is changing, particularly when you factor in what’s happening on mobile with Apple (kind of) killing IDAF, but what we effectively have is still an electronic audit trail.

The situation is fluid but the entire digital marketing ecosystem is working through potential solutions, which will equate to a lot of money being spent on stuff to fill the vacuum and then a lot of money spent unpacking it later.  Whatever the outcome 1st party transferable data is the key for brands and now is the time to build out the capability that’s going to answer the questions you will be asking in 2 years time.

My advice is to follow those seeking an answer, mistrust those who claim to have found it.

Colin Barnard, Commercial Director - Criteo

3rd party cookies evolved to primarily suit the needs of advertisers and publishers. Users also benefit from more relevant, better-targeted ads - something that makes ads more effective and keeps advertisers funding them which, in turn, pays for most online journalism and the vast trove of free, rich content on the internet.

It’s not perfect and many users find the level of intrusion and data sharing unfathomable or unacceptable. Apple was an early user ‘champion’ by limiting ‘tracking’ in Safari and now Google has come to the party too. Time for users to celebrate with their win? I don’t think so.

Firstly, untargeted ads give poor ROI and advertisers will reduce budgets accordingly, exacerbating the already tough environment for content owners.
Secondly, the median annual wage is $48k and the average Aussie cannot always afford ad-free experiences on $1,899 iPhones unlike some folk reading this. Remember that Apple’s business model is to charge for almost everything!
Lastly, Big Tech platforms are already exceptionally powerful with their mass of signed-in users and would further benefit if there is no agnostic user referencing system were available

But let’s not get carried away. The recent Chrome announcement is about 3rd party cookies. 1st party cookie usage continues and user data will increasingly be shared and stored via other means. Scarcity breeds creativity!

Broadly I think we should applaud Google. Unlike Apple who have no interest in ad-funded content, Google enables millions of website owners to make money. The Privacy Sandbox is aiming to find a solution that will allow the continuation of targeted ads which in itself supports the free internet whilst giving users greater protection. This isn’t the end of tracking, it’s just one of the many changes that we in Ad Tech deal with. The world will still spin and the doom mongers won’t go away, they’ll just be disappointed.

Andrew Hughes, Consultant - Louder

With significant industry discussion and debate over the upcoming data and privacy changes, accompanied by the retirement of third party cookies by technology companies and solution providers, it is clear that profound maturity evolutions and generational leaps are required for many marketing, analytics and data teams.

Irrespective of the market heavyweights making changes, these seismic shifts in data capability are also being driven by legislation introduced to protect consumers at both global and local levels. Organisations are now on notice, with privacy and consumer bodies declaring current data collection practices and use by marketers are to the detriment of the consumer’s privacy rights.

In order to avoid any implications, marketers need to assess their maturity and action a plan, normally initiated through the ownership of technology licences and operational standardisation, their ability to access and extract the data into a usable and standardised form and apply data models and processing to activate and capitalise on the value their first party data.

To maintain the current granularity of business and performance reporting, organisations will need to educate their staff and executives to evolve maturity around data collection, processing, loading and activation of that data in a compliant manner. This will result in the “addressable rate” of an audience, for all analytics, personalisation and media channels, becoming an increasingly critical business metric.

Through the evaluation of current maturity and capability, strategic planning can then be utilised to resolve these issues and ensure the appropriate use of measurement, analytics, customer data and personalisation, which is often achieved through the integration of client owned cloud solutions.

Robbie Hills, Head of Data & Technology- GCAS Google APAC 

Marketers in Australia should invest for this privacy-first, user-centric future today  

Marketers’ goals today might not have changed but the stakes have increased. As marketers we still want  to reach and measure audiences efficiently, but as cookie-based solutions and the ecosystem evolves, we  also need to re-define how to measure and find insights on audiences taking a privacy-first approach.  

The good news is this can be done by implementing best practices in a changing digital ads ecosystem,  and by investing in privacy-focused long-term strategies built on and respecting user choice and  transparency. Some of these best practices aren’t necessarily new, but they become especially important  as you begin to think about future-proofing your business. Here are three areas of best practice and  investments that you should start today. 

Strengthen your privacy policies

It’s important to review how you currently collect and use data, and ensure that your systems and  practices are consistent with your own principles and comply with regulations. This includes:  

  •  Making sure you have up-to-date, clear & transparent policies on how data is collected, used and  shared 
  • ​Prioritising consent and implement user controls (like the ability to opt in/out) to comply with  existing regulation and future proof your practices for more regulation 

You should also ensure your partners also have privacy-first principles and practices that comply with  regulations - and are consistent with user expectations and protect consumer data. This includes:  

  •  Audit partners to confirm they handle data appropriately 
  • Ask about their plans for a third-party cookieless future 
  • Avoid use of opaque data collection practices that don’t respect user privacy (e.g. fingerprinting) 

Redefine and boost first-party data solutions and relationships

Ensure you have comprehensive first-party party data solutions in place to​ measure​ the effectiveness of  your ads in a privacy-focused way: 

  • Get the most out of your measurement solutions by ​gleaning data insights from analytics tools​,  which you can then use to segment audiences and personalise a user’s experience on your  website. Make sure these tools provide features to safeguard data such as customisable cookie  settings, privacy controls, data sharing settings, data deletion on account termination, IP  anonymisation, data retention, user deletion and ads personalisation settings. Google Analytics is  an example of a product that does this well.  
  • Eliminate reliance on third-party cookies by having a​ first-party tagging strategy​ that enables  measurement visibility across all browsers 
  • Work with trusted measurement vendors that deliver privacy-centric solutions with high quality  methodology. Google’s​ ​Measurement Partner Program​ ​brings together 20+ verified partners  across seven specialisations: viewability, reach, brand safety, brand lift, sales lift, app attribution,  and marketing mix modeling.  ○ Over the last year, we've been working with key measurement companies including  Nielsen, comScore, DoubleVerify, Dynata, Kantar and Integral Ad Science to migrate their  services to Ads Data Hub.  

Invest in automation and machine learning to help you predict outcomes, make better decisions, and  engage with audiences 

Automation and machine learning can help marketers achieve advertising and digital personalisation  experiences at scale while anticipating user needs -- even when user signals are limited (e.g. due to user  preferences or browser constraints). 

  • Learn more from your first-party audience lists  
  • Consolidate your first-party data onto a Cloud Platform: ​Google is helping privacy-focused  marketers ​do more with their first-party data by making it easier to use Google Cloud  infrastructure for advanced marketing analytics​. Products like BigQuery and BigQuery Data  Transfer Service, marketers can centralise their data, leverage machine learning to derive  predictive insights, and take action on those insights across their marketing footprint.  
  • Conversions/ML-based modeling:​ utilise machine learning to do more with less data by  optimizing conversions, frequency management & targeting with ​constrained user signals​. 

It’s important we work together as an industry to stay ahead of user expectations when it comes to  privacy, while continuing to support a personalised and relevant ad experience. 

Need more info?