How the Cookie Crumbles

In 2004, as a final year student studying for my degree in marketing at the University of Central Lancashire, I became fascinated in the single semester module entitled “e-marketing”. So much so that I decided on the subject area for my final year dissertation. I am not sure how I came up with the topic “The Privacy Issues Arising from Online Marketing Personalisation” but it eventually led me onto my career in Digital Advertising.

The major focus of my dissertation topic of choice was the use of cookies to personalise web experiences, and whether it was an invasion on users privacy. Looking back their use was far less prevalent than has been in the years since. And it seems laughable that of all the developments in Internet technology made, third party cookies still prop up the multi-billion dollar ad industry.

But with Google’s announcement they will be ending support for 3rd party cookies by Jan 2022, we are finally seeing the end to their use as a pillar for the world of Adtech.

A recent Bloomberg article has done a great job of attempting to explain both how complex, and wide reaching such a change will be. This is not just purely a minor tweak in how we do things. It is a fundamental shift in how data is passed between web properties.

With Safari, Firefox and now Chrome rejecting 3rd party cookies, it is dead as a tracking technology. What is interesting to now discuss is what is next, and who is set to benefit from the change?

1st Party Power?

It is natural to move to an early conclusion that those with access to large volumes of 1st party data become more powerful. The walled garden of Facebook with its immense user base and combination of profile and usage behaviour is already a behemoth and only set to get stronger right? Well maybe not.

It is true that the changes are likely to benefit the world of publishing. Context and 1st party information will grow in significance and where the news sites have struggling in a 3rd party world, they should gain when it disappears. All major publishers will now be gearing up their sales machines to push the message of context+1st party audience data as the future.

But when it comes to the likes of Facebook – as the Bloomberg article rightly points out – they could still fall victim to the Google changes. The ability to piece together website conversions in Chrome with impressions served in app is a key piece of the Facebook puzzle and one which drives their advertiser ROI. If they lose the ability to do this at scale through the Google changes then they need another way of proving return for their advertisers.

Google’s Power Grows

A point driven home by the Bloomberg article is dominance and control have over the conversation. With the biggest mobile OS in Android, 64% of the browser market through Chrome and the largest programmatic ad exchange they are in a position to call the shots with what comes next. And if history tells us anything, it is that Google knows how to use its dominance to fuel it’s own interests.

The general consensus in the industry is it revolves around persistent IDs and (shhhh) browser fingerprinting combined against a universal login. But by the sounds of it even Google hasn’t made their mind up yet, let alone shared that with their W3C partners. This will leave many large technology providers scrambling to implement solutions once an agreement is derived as to how data will flow.

What Should Advertiser be Doing To Prepare?

For advertisers operating in the digital space, potentially with an established tech stack in place, there remains a lot of uncertainty around how they will operate in a 3rd party cookieless world. Those operating with a Google and Facebook dominated strategy are likely best placed to stay that way for now. Using Google Tech will mean whatever they decide you will be protected. Your Facebook activity may suffer but they have the scale to try and adapt to any changes.

Any advertisers looking at putting in new solutions or strategies should steer clear of those overly reliant on 3rd party cookies. Going down that route will future changes which could be avoided.

Other than that, digital advertisers and technology providers need to keep a close eye on the moves made by Google and Facebook. And look to Industry bodies such as the IAB for advise and guidance.

The days of the 3rd party cookie are coming to an end. Let’s hope what comes next is just as tasty…

2 thoughts on “How the Cookie Crumbles”

  1. Thanks for the read, Rob. How hard IS the move from third party to first party really, though? Seems fairly simple to me. I do worry about the increasing need for being persistently logged into Google. Then again, trying at the other extreme to stay logged in on Microsoft is also like moving through treacle. A list of technologies over reliant on third party cookies would be interesting to know.

  2. Hi Dixon, thanks for the comment. How easy it is to move away from 3rd party cookies depends on who you are. If you are Google, with control of a users browser, mobile, and App store then not too difficult. If you are an Advertising Technology provide relying on being able to pick users up on a large number of sites across the web, profile them and reach them with ads. A lot more difficult.

    For publishers then 1st party data will still be the go to option for user data. And they will now feel they are in a strong position to combat their declining ad revenues of recent times.

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