Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by 2023 has sent shockwaves across the digital advertising industry. Third-party cookies are small pieces of data that track users’ online behavior and allow advertisers to target them with personalized ads. They are widely used by publishers, advertisers, and ad tech companies to measure the effectiveness and revenue of online advertising.
However, third-party cookies have also raised privacy concerns among users, regulators, and lawmakers. Google claims that its cookie ban is part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative, which aims to create a more privacy-friendly web that respects users’ choices and preferences. Google says it will replace third-party cookies with alternative solutions that are based on anonymized and aggregated data, such as Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) and Trust Tokens.
The Impact of Google’s Cookie Ban on Publishers
Publishers rely heavily on third-party cookies to monetize their content and provide relevant and engaging experiences to their audiences. According to a study by Google, publishers could see their ad revenue drop by 52% without third-party cookies. Publishers also fear that Google’s cookie ban will give the tech giant more control and dominance over the online advertising ecosystem, as it already owns the most popular browser, search engine, and ad platform.
Some publishers are exploring alternative ways to cope with Google’s cookie ban, such as:
- Building first-party data: Publishers can collect and use their own data from their direct relationships with their users, such as email addresses, subscriptions, and registrations. This can help them create more loyal and valuable audiences, as well as offer more transparency and control to their users over their data.
- Joining identity solutions: Publishers can partner with third-party identity providers, such as LiveRamp, The Trade Desk, and Lotame, that offer solutions to link users across different devices and platforms without relying on cookies. These solutions use hashed email addresses, mobile IDs, or other identifiers to create pseudonymous profiles of users that can be used for targeting and measurement.
- Adopting contextual advertising: Publishers can use contextual advertising, which matches ads to the content and keywords of a web page, rather than the user’s behavior and interests. Contextual advertising can offer more privacy and relevance to users, as well as more brand safety and compliance to advertisers.
The Impact of Google’s Cookie Ban on Advertisers
Advertisers use third-party cookies to reach and influence their potential customers across the web. Third-party cookies enable advertisers to perform various functions, such as:
- Targeting: Advertisers can use third-party cookies to segment and target users based on their demographics, interests, behaviors, and intents. This can help them deliver more personalized and effective ads to the right users at the right time.
- Retargeting: Advertisers can use third-party cookies to track and follow users who have visited their websites or shown interest in their products or services. This can help them remind and persuade users to complete a desired action, such as making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter.
- Attribution: Advertisers can use third-party cookies to measure and optimize the performance and return on investment (ROI) of their online advertising campaigns. They can use third-party cookies to track and attribute conversions, such as sales or leads, to the specific ads, channels, and touchpoints that influenced them.
Google’s cookie ban will affect advertisers’ ability to perform these functions and achieve their marketing goals. Advertisers will have to adapt to the new reality and find new ways to reach and engage their audiences online, such as:
- Using Google’s alternatives: Advertisers can use Google’s proposed alternatives to third-party cookies, such as FLoC and Trust Tokens, which are designed to preserve users’ privacy while still allowing advertisers to target and measure their online advertising campaigns. However, these alternatives are still in development and testing, and their effectiveness and acceptance are yet to be proven.
- Leveraging first-party data: Advertisers can use their own first-party data, such as customer relationship management (CRM) data, loyalty program data, and transaction data, to create and activate their own audiences across different platforms and devices. This can help them enhance their customer relationships and loyalty, as well as increase their customer lifetime value (CLV).
- Exploring other platforms and channels: Advertisers can diversify their online advertising strategies and explore other platforms and channels that do not rely on third-party cookies, such as social media, video, podcasts, email, and native advertising. These platforms and channels can offer more engaging and immersive experiences to users, as well as more direct and authentic connections to advertisers.
The Impact of Google’s Cookie Ban on Ad Tech Companies
Ad tech companies are the intermediaries that facilitate and enable the online advertising transactions and processes between publishers and advertisers. Ad tech companies include demand-side platforms (DSPs), supply-side platforms (SSPs), data management platforms (DMPs), and measurement and analytics providers. Ad tech companies use third-party cookies to perform various functions, such as:
- Bidding and auctioning: Ad tech companies use third-party cookies to conduct real-time bidding (RTB) and programmatic advertising, which are the automated and data-driven methods of buying and selling online advertising inventory. Third-party cookies allow ad tech companies to identify and value users and impressions, and to match them with the most relevant and profitable ads.
- Data collection and enrichment: Ad tech companies use third-party cookies to collect and enrich data from various sources, such as publishers, advertisers, and third-party data providers. This data can include user profiles, preferences, behaviors, and intents, as well as ad inventory, pricing, and performance. This data can help ad tech companies provide more insights and value to their clients and partners.
- Fraud prevention and quality assurance: Ad tech companies use third-party cookies to detect and prevent fraud and invalid traffic (IVT), which are the malicious and deceptive practices that undermine the quality and integrity of online advertising. Third-party cookies allow ad tech companies to verify and validate the identity and legitimacy of users, publishers, and advertisers, and to filter out any fraudulent or low-quality impressions and clicks.
Google’s cookie ban will disrupt and challenge the ad tech industry, as it will reduce the availability and accuracy of data and signals that ad tech companies rely on to operate and compete. Ad tech companies will have to innovate and adapt to the new environment, such as:
- Collaborating and consolidating: Ad tech companies can collaborate and consolidate with other players in the industry, such as publishers, advertisers, and identity providers, to create and join unified and interoperable solutions and standards that can replace third-party cookies. This can help them maintain and enhance their scale, reach, and efficiency, as well as their value proposition and differentiation.
- Embracing and complying: Ad tech companies can embrace and comply with Google’s cookie ban and its alternatives, such as FLoC and Trust Tokens, which are expected to become the dominant and default solutions in the online advertising industry. This can help them stay relevant and competitive, as well as avoid any potential legal or regulatory issues.
- Innovating and experimenting: Ad tech companies can innovate and experiment with new technologies and approaches that can offer more privacy and transparency to users, while still allowing online advertising to function and flourish. These technologies and approaches can include blockchain, artificial intelligence, differential privacy, and consent management.
Google’s cookie ban is a major and inevitable change that will affect the entire online advertising industry. It will pose significant challenges and opportunities for publishers, advertisers, and ad tech companies, as they will have to rethink and reshape their strategies, practices, and solutions. It will also have implications for users, regulators, and lawmakers, as they will have to balance the trade-offs between privacy and personalization, as well as between competition and innovation. Google’s cookie ban is not the end of online advertising, but rather the beginning of a new era.