What the Delay to the End of Third-Party Cookies Means for Advertisers

Rachel Parkin CafeMedia

"Data-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 Rachel Parkin, executive vice president of strategy and sales at CafeMedia.

Some of us may not have been surprised by last week’s announcement that Google is delaying the deprecation of third-party cookies until 2023, even if the timing of the announcement was surprising in itself. Others may be breathing a huge sigh of relief and starting to plan for an extended summer vacation, if they didn’t already have one on the books.

Regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re on, the future remains the same, albeit a bit further on the horizon.

For advertisers, who are in various stages of wrapping their heads around this industry shift, how does this change the way that  they can prepare?

Take a wait and see approach

Google’s delay might make a ‘wait and see’ approach even more attractive. A number of advertisers (and publishers) initially planned to take a hands-off approach because there was so much uncertainty about the future. With limited development resources and a feeling that you may not have any influence on the outcome, it’s easy to see why an advertiser would choose to sit out what feels like an alpha phase.

Many advertisers will likely depend on technology partners and “bought” rather than “built” solutions. So the simple answer may be to delay worrying until new innovations are actually available in-market to test.

And, the delayed deprecation proved that the industry is no closer to clarity on solutions. Where the industry lands in 2023-24 could include any number of the more than 30 proposals in the Privacy Sandbox. Or it could be something that hasn’t even been introduced.

Take advantage of the extra time

On the other hand, the extra time gives advertisers more time to prepare for the same eventual change, so that we’re ready to say ‘good riddance’ to third-party cookies long before the end date actually arrives. How can an advertiser make the best use of this time?

Get involved. There are a number of industry forums, from the W3C to PRAM, where discussions around these changes are taking place. Advertisers have been underrepresented to date. We can change that underrepresentation moving forward to ensure advertising on the open web remains attractive to advertisers.

While it may not make sense for every advertiser to join directly, talking to publishers and technology partners who are heavily involved is a great way to make sure that they are representing marketers’ needs. Marketers will also want to ensure their partners are working on aggressive timelines to plan for any engineering and development work needed for their platforms to participate in beta trials for the Privacy Sandbox.

Test publisher data and contextual targeting – and vet ‘cookieless’ vendors carefully

Start testing cookieless targeting. Not every solution to the future is in the hands of Google and the other browsers. Begin to advertise without cookies with solutions that can work in parallel to whatever comes out of the Privacy Sandbox.

For example, advertisers can work with publishers to put context to the test and iterate on how specific segments, custom built for each campaign, can drive performance. Emerging technologies will enable buying on context in the open exchange. These two solutions are not dependent on Google’s timeline.

Refrain from buying third-party data. Hanging on to legacy tech isn’t going to make the process of shifting strategies any easier. With planning for 2022 advertising budgets likely underway, it’s the perfect time to increase the focus on tactics like publisher first-party audiences and context.

Support solutions that drive positive change for privacy. There are a number of identity solutions and technologies that could be seen as privacy workarounds rather than a step towards a more private web. Google’s announcement specifically called out covert fingerprinting and Apple’s latest privacy updates include the ability to hide IP addresses.

Advertisers and publishers alike will need to consider the methodology behind each approach and choose to walk away from any technology that is trying to circumvent user privacy. Instead, focus on a class of solutions that create a better experience for users.

Adopt a publisher mindset

The advertisers of today will also be the publishers of tomorrow. Advertisers who can create a user journey, including content, that allows customers to reveal more information about themselves through the actions they take, will generate their own universe of first-party data.

Thinking like a publisher will provide advertisers with more insights and information they can use to build campaigns. Providing more value to users will not only cement that critical relationship with users, it will incentivize users to sign up for newsletters or log in directly. Building email and log-in experiences is one of the top things publishers are also working on developing - and the extended timeline means there’s that much more opportunity for everyone to scale the number of known users.

Further engaging with publishers on ways to sync up these respective first-party datasets - with consumer consent, of course! - through data bunkers or clean rooms isn’t dependent on the Privacy Sandbox timeline either.

Be patient on measurement

The one area that will remain a bit foggy until more solutions are revealed is how measurement, and how core functions like frequency capping, reach, and campaign performance lift will work on the private web.

Advertisers may be better off relying on existing solutions. Or, knowing that marketing-mix modeling is likely to make a comeback, advertisers could test both in parallel to increase their comfort with aggregated approaches.  Keep your near-term focus on the many ID-less targeting solutions and hang tight on measurement.

Browsers and ad tech companies may be building the next generation ‘car,’ but advertisers are the drivers and hold the keys to the future of media investment on the open web.

The more time spent studying the manual and the more experience behind the ‘wheel’, the more likely digital advertising can pass the test. Let’s keep racing to the new - and longer - finish line.

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