CMOs urged to use latest cookie phase-out delay as a reminder to get ‘on track’

The CMA has raised further concerns about the introduction of Google’s Privacy Sandbox, which has now been delayed until 2025, but the hold-up is not expected to make any “meaningful difference” to advertisers, experts say.

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Google’s latest delay in axing third-party cookies is another reminder to brands that they need to start building a plan” to prepare for a cookieless future.

It’s a good prompt to remind CMOs that their brands need to be on track for how they’re going to resolve measurement and targeting in a world without third-party cookies, Paul Frampton-Calero, global president at marketing growth consultancy CvE, tells Marketing Week.

I don’t think this changes anything, but any communication is a good nudge to get people to remember the things they don’t want to do.

Last week (23 April), Google accepted it would not be able to eliminate third-party cookies to its original timeline, the third delay in a long-running saga that was initially announced in January 2020. Its updated plan to phase out third-party cookies is now set for 2025.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) released its latest quarterly report on Google’s Privacy Sandbox rollout on Friday (26 April). It detailed 79 concerns, up from 39 in its January update, over how the sandbox might give Google an advantage over other ad tech platforms.

The regulatory body must approve Google’s cookie deprecation plan before it can go ahead. And, for the first time, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) was also consulted on matters of privacy and data protection.

Amit Kotecha, Quantcast’s CMO says this latest delay is not surprising, but “it makes no meaningful difference for advertisers”. 

Rather than letting Google dictate the timeline, however, advertisers should be on the front foot and focus on building their first-party data system to find “better solutions that can drive performance and growth for businesses,” he adds.

The latest report finds that before the Privacy Sandbox goes to market, Google must not “design, develop or use” its tools in a way that will bolster Google’s existing market position of its advertising products and services.

Additionally, the CMA is examining what further restrictions may be imposed on Google’s use of its first-party data for targeting and measurement on its owned and operated sites to prevent more ad spend going to Google.The great day of third-party cookie anger has come and who can stand upright?

Google must also prove that the Privacy Sandbox will continue to be fair over the long-term. “Google currently retains significant discretion over how Privacy Sandbox works, develops over time, and the conditions for using Privacy Sandbox,” the report reads. “This creates a risk of self-preferencing or the perception of self-preferencing.”

Phil Duffield, vice-president for the UK at The Trade Desk, believes the delay shows that Google still hasn’t developed the “right solution” to enable “targeted, omnichannel advertising”.

The CMA will provide an update on how Google intends to resolve its concerns in a report at the end of July.

How advertisers are preparing

Following the news of the third delay, Jon Mew, CEO of IAB UK, says its message to the industry remains the same: “Prepare now. This is going to happen and it’s imperative that businesses are ready for what stands to be a significant shift for the digital ecosystem.”

Over half (57%) of the internet is already a cookieless environment, and research from customer data platform BlueConic finds more than three-quarters of publishers are investing in first-party data solutions.

Additionally, advertisers have been shifting their focus to retail media. Data from IAB and PwC revealed that retail media spend grew 12% in 2023 to £283m, as advertisers looked to tap into first-party data ahead of the crackdown on cookies.

Brands have also been preparing for some time, with drinks giant Diageo concentrating on the opportunity since Google first announced the transition to its Privacy Sandbox.

“Diageo’s plans to address signal loss started almost four years ago,” Diageo’s global media director Isabel Massey told Marketing Week in January.

“The focus of our consumer digital transformation work has always been to enable better consumer experiences with our brands, and this has been our North Star as we address the impact of signal loss.”