It felt like maybe the ad industry could get through summer without any big waves, but Google’s latest adjustment to its cookie deprecation timeline has our collective heads spinning again. After a year and a half of preparation and planning for a transition to a post-cookie world, advertisers now have an additional two years. Or do they?
While the delay is a major gift, no brand or agency should react to the news by sticking to the status quo for the next two years. Google’s more measured, incremental plan doesn’t change the writing on the wall – cookies are still going away.
Rather than celebrate, brands and agencies need to make use of the additional time they’ve been granted. Here are five things they should do – or continue doing – with the gift of more time.
1. Remember we’re in the privacy-first era
Consumers are more aware of how their data is used than ever before. Apple is putting a lot of money into ad campaigns that are built around privacy concepts and is changing its policies as a result.
Now is not the time for advertisers to retreat. Some brands may feel like they just got an extra two years to leverage exploitive tactics, chasing consumers with the same retargeting ads and looking to juice their click rates. Doing so is only going to hurt the long-term prospects of advertising, so it’s critical that we not abuse or misuse this new window.
2. Stick to your timeline
Prior to this announcement, even the most optimistic views of the future accepted that the industry would be a bit lost in the woods in the early days of the post-cookie era. Many proposed solutions aren’t ready for massive testing at scale, so there was going to be a great transitional period of sorting out, without the cookie to fall back on.
Google adjusted its timeline for precisely this reason, as even its favored cookie alternatives aren’t ready for primetime. Brands need to proceed at their current pace so that they are testing and learning throughout the remainder of 2021 and 2022, building on top of their progress and incrementally fine-tuning the solutions they deploy.
3. Test alternative data solutions
Prior to last month’s news, many of us felt Q3 would be rife with announcements about cookie-free targeting platforms, new identifiers and privacy-compliant data products. Many vendors have likely changed their plans or adjusted launch dates in light of this news, but there will still be a steady pipeline of emerging solutions, and marketers will be well served to devote the same level of attention and urgency they expected to devote prior to this latest news.
First-party data, co-op data, contextual data, survey data and many other forms are still important. There’s simply more time to test, experiment and develop the right mix and gain a better understanding of how to develop cookie proxies that will maintain performance without the use of data practices that infringe on consumers' privacy.
4. Don't ignore inventory on Firefox and Safari
Together, Safari and Firefox account for around 39% of the U.S. browser market across desktop, mobile and tablet. Chrome has the largest share, around 49%, but this other group still represents nearly two out of every five internet users. For a long time, many advertisers have been comfortable completely avoiding targeting this group, simply because these browsers turn off tracking by default.
The focus on a post-cookie Chrome finally got advertisers to take a serious look at this big chunk of audience that was missing from their plans and start to explore how they could incorporate it back into their targeting strategies. Firefox and Safari will remain important testing grounds over the next two years as marketers try to understand what performance looks like without cookies. For brands that master cookie-free targeting before 2023, the audience on these two browsers will be a field of opportunity.
Bear in mind, too, that Google’s latest move shows that things can change on a dime. While the new plan is more incremental, the possibility always exists that Google could follow the rest of the browser industry and turn off tracking by default, so that cookies remain supported but aren’t active for all users.
5. Focus on measurement
Google’s original timeline motivated many technology vendors to adjust their road maps and develop new methods for attributing performance. Cookies are a loss in terms of collecting data and targeting, but also for attribution.
The urgent need to maintain measurability has pushed many developers to create new ways to pinpoint conversions in non-attributable environments. So again, there’s more time to collaborate, test and assess.
As brands deepen their collaborations, they’ll get a clearer picture of what works and what doesn’t. Brands will eventually settle on the ideal mix of post-cookie solutions to achieve their best performance. Once they find what works best, they need to push buying platforms to make integrating those solutions as easy as possible. DSPs will need to respond with platform updates.
While Google’s adjusted timeline has brought understandable sighs of relief, it’s imperative that no one take this gift for granted. We know where the market is going and what matters to consumers. We have been given a rare opportunity to rebuild and deliver on the high principles consumers expect. Don’t slow down now.