For years, digital marketers have been relying on third-party cookies as the main form of identifying and tracking online audiences, and for years there have been concerns around consumer privacy relating to cookies and the data being collected on consumers.
As the ad tech industry has evolved over the years, the way we have depended on cookies has predominantly remained unchanged. What has changed is the increasing use of consumer data to reach the right person at the right time with the right message – otherwise known as personalisation or moment marketing.
This personalisation of digital advertising has been both a great convenience and a little oﬀ-putting to consumers. Yes, they get a better online experience with the content they are viewing as well as retail product recommendations being more tailored to their personal needs. On the other hand, the perception of being followed around online by advertisers can be disconcerting for users and brings consumer privacy concerns to the forefront of people’s minds.
It’s these mounting concerns that have brought forth government regulations across the world, such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and the
California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) speciﬁc to the state of California in the US, set to take eﬀect from January 1, 2020. These regulations have been set in place to give greater transparency and control to individuals regarding their personal data.
Industry self-regulation has also taken shape in the form of Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) and Mozilla’s Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP), which have implemented third-party cookie blocking as the default setting in their respective browsers. Google has recently been making waves in the industry press regarding the introduction of similar third-party cookie blocking controls being made available to users in its Chrome browser from early 2020.
Google is not giving much away regarding whether the improved cookie controls will set third-party cookie blocking as default or will be an opt-in solution for users to enable.
It’s this last example that has marketers squirming in their seats a little, as Google Chrome makes up a little over 70 per cent of the desktop browser market share globally, according to a Statista report released in July 2019. Adding to the collective share of both Firefox and Safari, we quickly get to more than 85 per cent of the market removed from tracking third-party cookies.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR DIGITAL MARKETERS ONCE THE (THIRD-PARTY) COOKIE CRUMBLES?
Firstly, we need to understand the diﬀerence between ﬁrst-party cookies and third-party cookies.
• First-party cookies
These cookies are created by the publisher in order to improve your experience within their site. For example, if you visit a news site that has a paywall or requires you to log in, you would need to re-log-in to your account when moving from one article to the next if ﬁrst-party cookies were not implemented, as the site would have no way of identifying you as the same user. Thankfully, ﬁrst-party cookies are not at immediate risk of being blocked by the browsers.
• Third-party cookies
These are the cookies most commonly used by ad tech providers like ad servers, site analytics companies, third-party data vendors, DSPs and DMPs, to collect user behaviours as they journey across multiple sites and consume various forms of online content, allowing advertisers to create custom proﬁles and optimise campaign performance.
The issue here is that this is often done without the users’ consent or knowledge. The areas I see being aﬀected the most by the cookie blocking will be the ability marketers will have to measure campaign performance as well as programmatic consolidation and optimisation outside of walled gardens such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, all of which have access to an abundance of ﬁrst-party data.
I will leave you to make your own assumptions about the real motivations of blocking third-party cookies from the most widely adopted browser in market.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?
There are a lot of diﬀering opinions on what the ad-tech industry will look like once the cookie has well and truly been reduced to crumbs. The one thing that seems to be a recurring theme is that things absolutely have to evolve and we have to do it collaboratively and with consumers’ right to privacy at the heart of things.
The adoption of uniﬁed IDs would solve not only the third-party cookie blocking issue, but also allow more accurate cross-device tracking without relying on syncing cookie IDs with device IDs.
Industry bodies such as the IAB Tech Lab have been working on The DigiTrust Working Group, which aims to provide a DigiTrust browser-based ID to create a persistent ID solution that also works on the side of consumer trust and privacy.
The Advertising ID Consortium, made up of supply-side and demand-side platforms such as LiveRamp, The Trade Desk and Index Exchange, has been working to develop a uniﬁed ID as well as joining up with the IAB DigiTrust to provide assistance on building the framework that will allow the consortium to remain independent and not be associated with any one tech vendor in the group.
Until we have a standardised and workable solution on uniﬁed IDs across the industry, we are left to ﬁgure out solutions to audience targeting and measurement without third-party cookies. That’s a conversation for another time.