Brand Marketers Are Needed To Build The Post-Third-Party Cookie Ecosystem

Hugo Loriot headshotData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Hugo Loriot, partner and managing director at 55.

For the vast majority of marketers who have never visited a GitHub repository, now is the time to do so, because this is where important conversations around the future of biddable media are taking place.

You might think there is no connection between GitHub, where ad tech engineers collaborate on iterations of software codes and the future of audience planning. However, marketers’ 2021 retargeting strategies probably rely on what that unfriendly Git branch says.

This is a problem, because digital marketing questions should not be addressed by engineers only.

What will brand strategies look like after third-party cookies disappear?

CMOs are well aware that back in January Google announced Chrome would stop supporting third-party cookies within two years. This decision sparked numerous conversations between brands and their partners to define what a future-proof audience strategy looks like and how to get ready for (re)targeting audiences without third-party cookies.

New strategies include moving away from anonymous cookie-based targeting to known identity-based targeting such as hashed emails, and replacing multi-touchpoint attribution with conversion lift testing or media mix modeling. The general consensus is that the clock is ticking for retargeting and view-through attribution. But is it accurate?

When Google dropped its bombshell, marketers and agencies focused immediately on the cost of losing cookies and the need for a new currency, but they did not pay enough attention to solutions Google hinted at in the evolution of retargeting and campaign measurement. As a result, brands have been scrambling to either reinvent their audience planning practices with cookieless CRM data as a gold standard or move away from audience targeting altogether to embrace 20-year-old contextual targeting.

In the meantime, Google and other ad tech players, led by Criteo, are investigating privacy-safe solutions to evolve the existing ecosystem by replacing the underlying cookie-syncing process with a browser-based or gatekeeper approach.

Retargeting may look different, but it is here to stay

The lack of communication between the tech and marketing sides is clearly seen in the solutions delivered thus far, which are only focusing on the ad tech plumbing and not practical brand considerations.

Why let marketers think retargeting is dead and then stretch their CRM capabilities? As brands continue to put their PII onboarding on steroids, both the TURTLEDOVE and SPARROW proposals in Google’s Privacy Sandbox keep the ability to retarget unknown website visitors, which has been unchanged from a brand perspective.

Google and Criteo’s proposed changes would affect how groups of unknown visitors can be shared across the programmatic chain and the flexibility of bidding and capping. At the end of the day, however, brands would still be able to identify groups of people who browse the shoe section from people who don’t and subsequently push a shoe retargeting ad to the former group.

Bringing brand marketers to the table

Letting marketers know their bread-and-butter retargeting strategy will be taken care of would switch their focus to contributing to the best way to make this happen. While TURTLEDOVE and SPARROW aim at making retargeting privacy-safe with deep technical considerations, there is little discussion about how brands can create retargeting audiences that are large enough to be privacy-safe but granular enough to make sense from a retargeting standpoint.

From a tool set standpoint, it would be beneficial to discuss with the brands if they want to be able to use Google Analytics, a tag management system or a third-party DMP/CDP for audience creation. This can help prioritize new user data sharing protocols, such as using Google Analytics’ first-party data to create audience groups, which can then tick a box for browser and gatekeeper distribution with the Display & Video 360 advertiser ID.

Ensuring an effective solution

Not only will involving marketers in the conversation help shape the right solution, but it will ensure broad adoption and limited disruption.

Typically, major advertising policy upgrades and features are announced at industry events such as Google Marketing Live, Google I/O, Cannes Lions or DMEXCO. Once announced, they are followed by a well-established protocol of alpha, beta and general availability stages, designed to ensure brands and partners have a say to inform the product. There is no reason such an important change is tackled in a vacuum by a handful of browser and ad tech experts.

Chrome’s upcoming policy change that will end support for the third-party cookies that have powered much of the digital advertising ecosystem is the opportunity to level up audience targeting and measurement practice in a more efficient, privacy-safe way.

To be successful, the solution has to be co-designed between technology players and marketers equally. Clarifying that retargeting and aggregated campaign measurement are here to stay, even with a strong facelift, is the first step in that direction.

Follow 55 (@55FiftyFive55) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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