The last 12 months haven’t been straightforward. To use a now well-worn phrase, life has become ‘unprecedented’, with plenty of things to take our minds off the lingering and lurking departure of third-party cookies. With those distractions thankfully now running out of steam, it looks like we have no other choice than to face our fears, but has that fear become worse than the reality?
That’s often the way of life after all. Like a dreaded expense claim allowed to fester, even the simplest task can turn into a seemingly complex monster, easily put off for another day. The demise of third-party cookies may feel like the mother of all overdue expense claims, but is it worthy of such an esteemed crown of fear? I’m not so sure.
At Experian, we’ve been thinking about a future without third party cookies for a long time and you can be forgiven for wondering why the market hasn’t reacted more quickly.
Part of the issue may be that things have crept-up rather gradually. The ball started rolling in 2017 when Apple introduced Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature, something which became increasingly influential with each release.
Firefox introducing its own block in 2019 added to the momentum and meant the market, for the most part, became dependent on Google to meet its needs. This all happened without enough of an immediate consequence to trigger alarm bells. These events were clear signposts for times to come, but it was only when Google announced it would follow suit that the consequence of the impending impact came into focus.
Consider that many things, such as measurement or profiling, can function well enough by just using samples of data. Though it falls short of a complete picture, it gives enough of a steer on performance to allow advertisers to make informed decisions and scale the answers provided across their media spends. However, once third-party cookies go, even this “steer” ceases to exist.
Retargeting is a similar story. Advertisers haven’t been able to retarget Safari browsers for a long time, but perhaps that wasn’t fully evident to brands. As long as budgets can be spent and performance can be achieved using a reduced cookie pool, the absent chunk of audience becomes surprisingly less noticeable, but the effects are there, nonetheless.
Over on the publisher side is the ever-present competition with GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) and their wealth of logged-in data. Life post third-party cookie will swing the pendulum even more in their favour and will make it harder for publisher audiences to be connected to brand CRM data and enhanced with demographic data from third parties like Experian. This isn’t good news for publishers and it’s not good news for advertisers either – a competitive market is a healthy market after all.
The end of third party cookies will be disruptive for the industry, but there are big reasons advertisers should embrace this rather than fear it
- It is a positive disruption. The removal of third-party cookies by Google provides the urgency that’s been lacking to unite the industry around finding future proof solutions. The market has needed to evolve and there are many sensible reasons why the bar needs to be raised in terms privacy, control of data and data minimisation, but that alone isn’t enough. We needed a spark to ignite change and now we have it.
- The earlier advertisers face the problem, the more time they will have to prepare. There is time now for testing and learning to help advertisers understand their requirements in a post third-party cookie world. The door is open to work alongside publishers to influence their thinking and find solutions that benefit all parties involved, including the consumer.
- Advertisers have a direct relationship with the consumer. A clear line of engagement with data subjects enables consent and transparency to be established, which will serve as the foundations of the first-party data era. Not everyone in the industry has this relationship to utilise but advertisers do, which is a major benefit
- Logged-in audiences will grow over time. There is more incentive for publishers to feather their nest with user registration data and, in parallel, your own database of consented data will play an extremely important role in finding audiences. This won’t cover all use cases and will need time to grow, but it will provide accurate audiences to address in time.
- First-party identifiers are a proven entity and a big part of the future. Mainly because they are great for privacy, consumer choice and operating at scale. Strides are being made in securely joining up first-party data to unlock potential, so there are new options which can provide both accuracy and scale. Spend some time now learning about what is being developed so you’ll know what is suitable for your brand.
- Data collaboration between parties has evolved. There is no silver bullet to any of this, but the progression of clean room technology is perhaps what will make the biggest difference as we transition into the first-party era. The ability to use data securely, minimally and without risk of unintended disclosure sits at the heart of the problems we are dealing with today. The development in clean room, or decentralised database technology, dramatically reduces the risks involved in using data between parties. Not only that – it’s faster and can power greater collaboration. In part the capability also unlocks how first-party IDs can be securely used to share information whilst respecting end-user consent.
Considering all of this it is fair to say that a lot has changed and some very important parts of the puzzle have fallen into place. Like wading through that overdue expense report, facing the loss of third-party cookies may feel like you’re swallowing a frog but with careful planning, a test and learn strategy, along with some industry collaboration, you can get ahead of the curve and prosper in the first-party era.
For more insights, join us at the Festival of Marketing on 9 June for our session, ‘Innovation in digital marketing: Three ways for your brand to succeed as third-party cookies disappear’, also available on demand after the event.