3 Steps for Marketers to Prepare for a Cookieless World

July 2, 2021
Contributor: Kelly Blum

As third-party cookie data comes to an end, marketing leaders must accept a future of consent-based advertising.

By year end 2023, Google plans to officially stop supporting third-party cookies on its Chrome browser, effectively ending two decades of media- and data-driven-performance targeted advertising. Marketing leaders and their teams must prepare for a future of cookieless advertising and focus on consent-based advertising instead. This will include overhauling playbooks, resetting measurement and reevaluating spend on Google.

“Marketers should expect substantial and sustained disruption to digital advertising to last through the first half of 2023, or longer.”

“It will likely take many years for a stable environment that balances standards-based data-driven advertising and consumer privacy to emerge,” said Eric Schmitt, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “Marketing leaders responsible for ad budgets, media mix, planning and measurement will need to adjust strategies as Google rewires its data policies, ad products and capabilities against a backdrop of new privacy norms and elevated antitrust dynamics.”

Demise of third-party cookies

Third-party cookies were designed to anonymously store information under the control of end users, but were seized on by ad tech providers to amass and link datasets to target and measure highly specific ads.

As third-party cookies disappear, ad data and third-party processing will decline in breadth, availability and quality. 

Ad targeting, buying and optimization processes will be disrupted and constrained, especially for performance-oriented campaigns and custom audiences. Current ad measurement, attribution and optimization practices will become peripheral or irrelevant as cookie data gaps undermine attribution and optimization, incrementality testing and app-to-web tracking. 

Google described the end of third-party cookies as an important step toward greater privacy for web browsers, and it comes on the heels of Apple’s April 2021 iOS update 14.5, which featured a new consent protocol called App Tracking Transparency (ATT). ATT governs and constrains how apps and advertisers can use uniquely identifiable data like device ID to target, measure and optimize campaigns. 

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Three actions for marketers headed into a world without cookies

To best prepare for the changes associated with a cookieless world, marketing leaders should: 

No. 1: Prepare for sustained disruption

Develop a strategy to navigate the overlapping, cascading effects of identity and privacy changes from Google and Apple. “As cookie data collection stops, large portions of the digital data universe will be frozen in time. Advertisers may feel caught in a slow-motion decline as they grapple with a drastically different digital ad targeting landscape,” says Schmitt. Plan to make substantial shifts in the media mix by retiring, reinventing or redirecting cookie-related media spend.  

No. 2: Rethink ad measurement practices

Cookie obsolescence will compound existing challenges of digital ad measurement, including transparency and interoperability standards and attribution accuracy, while making others irrelevant. To gear up for an era of advertising experimentation, reset measurement baselines, invest in market research and lock in key resources, from agency staff to publisher-direct deals.  

No. 3: Adapt to a walled garden world

Get comfortable with “walled garden world” scenarios and prioritize investments in media, technology and data capabilities accordingly. Be ready to increase allocations to Google, Facebook and Amazon. Expect to manage an increasing number of direct media buys with platforms and publishers — and less cross-publisher programmatic display.

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