Caitlin Ammann is planning director at Edge.
You may have heard about the so-called Cookie Apocalypse, announced earlier this year and planned for 2022, when Google Chrome joins Apple and others in phasing out the use of third party cookies. Digital marketers are heavily reliant on these tiny tools of internet stalkery, which are most commonly used for retargeting, behavioural targeting, analytics and site optimisation. Experts predict the phase-out will render up to 85% of digital marketing capabilities useless, forcing all of us to think up new ways of ensuring relevance.
This shift isn’t anything new; the sun has been setting on third party cookies for some time now. The main criticism comes down to privacy, with watchdogs concerned the technology is now being used for purposes far beyond its original design intent. In recent years people’s expectations around how their data is collected and used has evolved, and the industry is responding accordingly, with Mozilla, for example, blocking third-party cookies by default for all users in 2019. But with reported 66% share of the browser market globally, Google’s announcement to join the crack-down has officially sealed the cookies’ fate.
Proponents argue that advertising revenue – driven by cookies – underwrites the web content and creators which we all enjoy. The ANA and 4 A’s – the peak ad industry bodies in the U.S. – had some damning words, saying in a joint statement, “it may choke off the economic oxygen from advertising that start-ups and emerging companies need to survive.”
Before you start feeling like it’s getting hard to breathe, there are steps brands can start making today to prepare for 2022.
Sort your data strategy
In the lead-up to 2022, the obvious first step is for brands to shore up their own first party data. Brands that have a solid grasp on that – think Qantas or Wesfarmers – will see little impact. Marketers should make sure the first party data they do have is clean and usable. And keep in mind that in this new world, more doesn’t always mean better. Brands will need to be intentional about collecting only the data that they need to provide value back to customers. Incentivise your users with a compelling reason to sign-in (and keep in mind that your ability to offer ‘a more personalised website experience’ probably isn’t all that compelling to anyone who isn’t a marketer!). Finally, organise your data according to data as a service (DaaS) principles so when it comes to executing with it, you can be smarter, better and faster than your competitors.
High quality over hypertargeted
Agencies and brand marketers will need to shift strategies away from hyper-targeted, hyper-relevant messaging and instead focus on ‘fewer, bigger, better and bolder’ creative executions. Quality brand-led experiences will stand out in an environment where highly individual messages for everyone is impossible.
Without third party cookies, marketers will need to rely on other signals to know what message to serve a particular user. Behavioural targeting skills will be moot past 2022, so many experts are predicting a rise in contextual targeting. It’s certainly not a new concept, but historically it’s been more expensive to buy a placement contextually than a user programmatically. This may change in the future, as ad networks will need to find new fuel to power those programmatic engines if they want to avoid becoming redundant.
The long-term future may play out differently –if adtech is to ever make good on its navel-gazing discussions around universal user IDs and start to seriously invest. This alternative to cookies, distant as it is, will likely see a move to collecting authenticated identification from users. Of course, this is the holy grail for many reasons, not least of which is cross-device tracking. I’m hopeful that the 2022 ‘cookiepocalypse’ forces the industry to make user IDs the new standard for digital tracking.
There’s no doubt that as the third party cookie crumbles, advertisers, agencies and publishers will all need to adapt. There will likely be a few years of growing pains and hit-or-miss workarounds, but there are certainly solutions – both short and long-term – on the horizon.