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Who Ate All My Cookies?

Toni Cumberbatch
Director, Data Marketing & Delivery
An overview of the demise of 3rd party ad tracking cookies and proposed solutions to mitigate their loss
It’s happening again. Under the premise of privacy, another Tech giant, Google, has scheduled the retirement of the third-party cookie. “Another one?” you might exclaim. Yes, another one. The simple truth is that the deprecation of the third-party cookie didn’t start with Google. The transition had already begun with legislative actions, such as GDPR and CCPA, and some level of cookie blocking from browsers, such as Safari, Firefox, and Edge. Progression of Ad Blocking Initiatives Although advertisers have been cushioned from the blow somewhat because of limited adoption across browsers, the imminent threat of 3rd party cookie blocking in Chrome is a considerable threat to programmatic advertising across the web as we currently know it, as well as measurement and analytics – mainly because 63% of web users worldwide select Chrome as their browser of choice, while 46% of web users select Chrome in the U.S. [1] [1] https://gs.statcounter.com/browser-market-share Cookies Demystified So, what exactly is a cookie?  It’s simply a snippet of code that is added to your browser when you navigate to a site.  There are two different types of cookies:
  • 1st party cookies: these are dropped on a user’s browser by the site being visited. Hence, its name “1st” The cookie can be used for analytics, tracking visitors, remembering user preferences, etc. A good example is when a user navigates to a news site, such as the New York Times. The domain will drop a snippet of code on the user’s browser.  When the user returns, he/she will be presented with a more customized experience.
  • 3rd party cookies: these are snippets of code from other providers — other than the one being visited. These types of cookies can only be read by the vendor to whom it belongs, and are typically used for cross-site tracking, retargeting, ad-serving, etc.
A Changing Landscape In addition to the imminent retirement of the 3rd party cookie, in March 2021, Google announced that it would also not support the development of alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor would they use them in their products.[1] This announcement caused tremendous angst among those in the advertising community, as many were leaning on the AdTech giants’ development of unified identifiers (LiveRamp calls theirs IdentityLinks), that could be integrated into DSPs and used broadly to target users across the web. Additionally, in late April 2021, Apple mandated that Apps get explicit permission from users to track them across Apps and the web. Another hit to ad tracking as we know it, mainly because many expect that when presented with the option to block tracking, most users will take it. So Now that the Cookie Has Crumbled, What’s Next? The reality is that all these changes are happening in real time.  And, AdTech giants are working intently on a solution. Some of the remedies include development initiatives from Google itself, while others have been unfolding over the last couple of years — mainly due to the evolution and advancement of ad targeting, as opposed to any worry or concern for cookie deprecation.   So, what’s in the works:
  1. Google is developing its own cookie-less solution currently. They are in the process of testing “cohorts (Federated Learning of Cohorts – FLOc),” which are, essentially, users grouped together based on interest as defined by their browsing history, content consumption, etc.
  2. Contextual and content targeting – while not new in concept, some AdTech companies have made considerable advancements in contextual and content targeting. So much so, that they can aggregate data from hundreds of thousands of Apps and websites in “real-time” to developed intent-based targeting that can be used in the moment for ad campaigns.
  3. IP Targeting – the transition to IP targeting was well underway before Google ever made its announcement. What’s IP Targeting, you ask?  In simple terms, it is  targeting an individual based on the IP address of that user’s device. Each connected device has one making it ideal for CTV, Mobile and ABM. If you are thinking that this kind of targeting isn’t “personalized” enough, don’t be fooled. Customer Data Platforms (CDPs), Data On-boarders, and AdTech companies are matching online and offline data to facilitate highly targeted, relevant ad campaigns that resonate with users.
  4. Geofencing – a subset of IP targeting, geofencing enables users to be targeted within a specific radius of a physical location based on IP address. A good use case for this would be to target attendees at an event to drive them to an exhibitor’s booth (live or virtually).
  5. Social Advertising – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and many of the social platforms are walled-gardens in and of themselves. By identifying the desired target within these self-contained networks, advertisers can develop highly personalized campaigns that completely by-pass Google.
  6. Unique Identifiers – just because Google isn’t playing ball, doesn’t mean that the game must stop. AdTech giants have not allowed Google’s March announcement to halt their efforts to move forward with a universal unique identifier. Prominent players, such as TradeDesk and LiveRamp, are actively working to integrate their IDs into DSPs.  The reality is that Chrome isn’t the only player in town and if they won’t sign on for the next season, someone else will.
Which leads me to my next point…. The Next Course: A Mixed Salad Despite all the initiatives underway to solve for a future cookie-less advertising eco-system, the future is still quite uncertain. To that point, marketing and advertising pros believe that a combination of strategies will be the best way forward to target users across connected devices in the future.

[1] https://blog.google/products/ads-commerce/a-more-privacy-first-web