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The end of third party cookies


August 16, 2021 By Aurelia Noel

The impact stemming from the end of third-party cookies will be felt across every aspect of the digital marketing ecosystem. It’s important to understand the nuances of how this change will impact users, advertisers, platforms, and publishers.

The Impact on Consumers

Emails around privacy / cookie policy updates, explosion of cookie banners, providing cookie preference settings to users, tracking prompts on mobile… privacy has never been so noticeable for consumers as it is today. It is therefore not surprising that searches for “online privacy” have grown by more than 50% year over year.[i]

In response, brands should figure out how they can take ownership of the privacy story. Some leading brands are not positioning privacy as merely a part of the story, but as the core of their selling proposition. For example, Apple has taken a strong stand for privacy,[ii] and Neeva is a new subscription-based search engine built around the theory that individuals will pay a recurring fee in order to access a privacy-first experience.[iii] While few advertisers will be able to lean into this issue as heavily as those two brands, it is important to build a consumer facing privacy story through transparent, proactive, and clear communications in order to nurture trust and encourage consumers to share more first-party data whilst ensuring compliance with applicable legal requirements.

The Impact on Brands

The end of third-party cookies will lead to fewer opportunities for ad personalisation, especially for acquisition-focused campaigns. Therefore, it will be important to adjust strategies, prioritising those that interact with the ads and inviting them to take the next step (and share data which can be used for future personalisation). It will also be imperative to continue investing in creativity that will catch user attention.

The loss of cross-platform frequency capping will lead to overserving or customers feeling like ads are following them around the internet when a brand’s marketing campaign includes too many separate platforms. Brands will have to balance leveraging multiple platforms for expanded reach against oversaturating individuals or groups, and they should plan to replace cross-audience frequency measurement with other solutions that indirectly monitor frequency impact, such as surveys or pulsing campaigns that can identify the points of diminishing return.

It is also critical that brands understand how their marketing KPIs will be affected. For example, without third-party cookies, most display/programmatic view through conversion data will disappear, but that does not mean consumers have stopped converting after seeing banner ads. By understanding the specific impacts to measurement as isolated from other changes, brands can use the data still available to deliver accurate estimates of metrics that are no longer tracked—and should use the next year to establish their own benchmarks. 

The Impact on Platforms and Publishers

The platforms that are strongest positioned to move into the cookieless future are those that own both ad inventory and their own first-party data. Every platform that owns only half of that equation is currently working with partners to fill the gap and strengthen their position in the advertising ecosystem.

Google, who is driving this change, is very well positioned, based on their diversified assets and massive first-party data, despite the initial criticism of their FLoC solution.[iv] Similarly, Facebook, Amazon and others are going to have less of an impact on their owned and operated properties (that mostly rely on signed-in users) but are likely going to see a material impact on their ad networks (that use third-party cookies).

Smaller platforms are building integrations across the ad ecosystem in order to maintain the value of their assets. Many are collaborating to develop a common identity solution to make their data and inventory interoperable.

Collaboration: Key after the end of third party cookies

Collaboration will be the key to launching effective solutions after the end of third party cookies. Measurement platforms will have to collaborate with brands in order to ensure clear understanding of which estimates reflect ongoing consumer behavior and which show truly incremental increases. The platforms themselves will forge new alliances in order to deliver effective, focused solutions for advertisers that deliver the benefits of cookie targeting in new ways. And finally, all players will have a key role in providing ongoing education to consumers in order to build trust and demonstrate the benefits that will encourage them to share more first-party data.

What is First-party data?

First-party data is the foundation of post-cookie success for all elements of the advertising ecosystem—it will become the most valuable currency in the digital marketing space. Brands should look for new ways to utilise their own CRM data to reach current customers, and the platforms that can successfully merge this CRM data with their own first-party assets to create lookalike audiences will be the ones who most successfully navigate the shift to an advertising ecosystem without third-party cookies.

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[i] Google Data, Global English, Apr 15, 2020 - Jun 13, 2020 vs Apr 15, 2019 - Jun 13, 2019, as featured in The marketer’s playbook for navigating today’s privacy environment, July 2020

[ii] Apple website, Privacy page, as accessed on June 21

[iii] Neeva website, Features page and FAQ page, as accessed on June 21, 2021

 [iv] Electronic Frontier Foundation - Google’s FLoC Is a Terrible Idea, March 3, 2021