It’s 2022. You’ve created compelling display advertisements for a valuable product, but you are struggling to get to the audience that requires it. You can’t identify prospective buyers at a sea of generic net impressions, and you’ve lost access to vital purchase intent activity insights. This scenario is currently under a year off, and many marketers are wondering how to evolve into a world without 3rd party cookies.
There are a lot of extremely technical solutions being discussed, however, the prevailing sense for marketers right now is still uncertainty. What trends if you are monitoring, and what can you do right now to prepare?
What are we talking about?
1st party cookies are essential to businesses to keep customer login info, monitor analytics data and generate a positive user experience on their site. This is like the loyalty program in your grocery store. Understanding who you are, and your previous purchases, lets them customize coupons, send discounts and email you a receipt.
3rd party cookies are effectively the exact same snippet of code, but one which has been put on your browser by a web site that’s different from the one you are visiting. So, 1st party cookies from a site immediately become 3rd party cookies as soon as you leave. Websites also associate with other companies to permit them to place 3rd party cookies on users’ browsers to gather information.
Websites access all the 3rd party cookies on your browser to get a full picture of who you are, where you’ve been and what you like. Imagine your local grocery store, instead of just scanning your card, opens your wallet and reads through your driver’s license, receipts and other membership cards to understand your past activity and intent.
By eliminating 3rd party cookies, Google wants to prevent websites from accessing that data to protect user privacy. As a result, they’re shutting down insights into a person’s demographics, interests and previous activities available to ad targeting platforms. While it remains to be seen how successful that will be, we do know that eliminating 3rd party cookies effectively crumbles the current foundation of programmatic ad targeting.
Unification… but will it work?
Trying to get a grasp of Google’s intent once cookies are phased out is difficult, especially when Google isn’t exactly clear on what they will be doing. To address the issue head-on, several companies are creating non-cookie-based solutions that replicate the targeting features ushered in by cookies.
Companies like The Trade Desk along with organizations like PRAM (the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media) and the IAB Tech Lab are working on open-source solutions featuring unified identifiers (UID 2.0). These are email-based identity associations used to create more accurate targeting to users who have consented to have their data included.
Going back to our grocery store analogy, this is like a group of stores partnering to share the data from their loyalty programs to maintain insight into what their customers are doing — even when they aren’t physically in their store.
The ability to understand and target specific users — known as addressability — would live on, but in a fractured form. There’s still debate over which identifier would reign supreme with the likely outcome of a series of identifiers applicable within their own playgrounds — with little to no communication between them. This again leaves the marketer trying to pick up the pieces to see the full picture of their campaigns.
Google further ruffled feathers by saying they are not going to be using alternative ways to track users. Their stance is that replicating cookie-type behavior using user emails — even if consent was given — will not fly. While not directly stated, this was a clear shot at unified identifiers being the solution the industry needs.
Unified identifiers are for the birds — Google’s FLoC plan moving forward
If Google’s out on unified identifiers, what do they expect to fill the massive void left by 3rd party cookies? There have been numerous proposals from their Privacy Sandbox, but they’ve most recently settled on FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts).This replaces individual identifiers with a system that places users into common interest groups. Those groups would be targetable, and the data would be reported at the group level — not the individual level.
Imagine Google looking through everyone’s wallets to understand their activity, then grouping similar profiles together — all while not sharing the full data pictures with the stores where the activity occurs.
Google claims that FLoC will be 95% effective at replicating the performance seen with campaigns targeted using 3rd party cookies, but not everyone is convinced. Without seeing the specific data, a lot of uncertainty remains.
Is Google saying what is good for the goose is not exactly good for the gander? It is too early to say, but they would continue to have access to all that data while it remained anonymous for everyone else.
Where does that leave you?
While it’s important to keep tabs on potential cookie-targeting replacement solutions, it’s not necessary to get an up-close look at how the sausage is made at this point. These solutions will eventually be known prior to 3rd party cookies’ passing. Right now, there are three things you can focus on to prepare for the change:
- Maintain an integrated advertising approach acro