Last year, Google shook up the digital advertising industry by announcing its plan to block third-party cookies in the Chrome browser by early 2022. Since Chrome is the world’s most popular internet browser, with about two-thirds of global market share, mainstream and ad industry news sources declared this news “the end of advertising as we know it,” and instructed advertisers to start battening down the hatches and preparing for the worst.
But at the end of June, Google made a surprise announcement delaying its cookie-blocking efforts for two years, to the end of 2023. So since we have this reprieve, we thought we’d share how the Blue State team is getting ready for the death of the cookie.
Taking a step back
Third-party cookies are ubiquitous across the web. Go to CNN.com on your laptop to check the news, and you’ll download more than a dozen third-party cookies from exchanges, ad tech companies, and analytics tools, including Amazon, Outbrain, AppNexus (now part of AT&T-owned Xandr), Index Exchange, and, yes, even Google. No shade to CNN in particular here — they’re just following the same longstanding practices as nearly everyone else — but that’s a lot of cookies!
Preparing for the future of media targeting
What happens to digital advertising when all of these cookies disappear? From the Blue State team’s perspective, it’s hardly the apocalypse. We know that cookies have never been a perfect way to target online audiences. Cookie-to-user match rates can miss anywhere from 30% to as many at 70% of targets, in part because many internet users have learned to manually clear their cookies every so often. And, of course, cookies alone can’t reach users on their mobile devices or tablets. That’s why our media planning approach has always brought in a mix of targeting tactics including cookies, device IDs, IP addresses, geolocation, contextual, and other targeting types.
We’re also closely monitoring the many developments in this space and working with our ad tech partners to evaluate up-and-coming solutions for addressability, including Google’s own FLoC approach, Facebook’s server-side API for conversion tracking, login-based methods like Liveramp ATS and Unified ID 2.0, and other identity resolution methods that are under development. Many of these are still in the early stages, and the ad tech industry as a whole has been rushing to make them viable in time for the original early 2022 deadline imposed by Google. They’ll all benefit from having this additional time for implementation and adoption. But ultimately, we know that none of these is going to be a one-to-one cookie replacement (nor are they trying to be). And, in the same way that cookie targeting has never had perfect accuracy or precision, neither will any of these.
Embracing the march towards privacy
The bottom line is: We’re always going to need to rely on a strategic mix of targeting methods to reach all the audiences we need to get in front of across all the devices they use. As the industry continues to evolve, some of the specific tactics marketers have relied on to reach particular sets of users may change, or become more difficult, or even disappear altogether. But at the end of the day, our underlying approach — finding the right strategic mix of channels, audiences, targeting methods, and creative to drive an impact — really won’t.
One last thing: If you’re feeling a little creeped out by all this tracking, you’re not alone. The underlying shift towards increased consumer privacy protections online (which is the driving force behind Google’s original decision and many other similar privacy-oriented measures) is coming from regulators in the U.S. and EU, and from us internet users ourselves. In a May 2019 survey of U.S. smartphone users, 64% of those surveyed said “data privacy policies of a brand or company are very important.” In a global study conducted in 2019, more than half of respondents were more concerned about their online privacy than they were a year ago.
At Blue State, we think brands, nonprofits, and campaigns will benefit from embracing the march towards privacy, rather than trying to find ways around it. Get ready to adjust expectations and execution of your marketing programs accordingly, because it’s what your consumers, donors, and supporters want — and it’s coming eventually, no matter what.