By this point we're all well aware that the third-party cookie is no longer a sustainable mechanism for targeting, tracking and measurement in digital marketing. A combination of user-privacy concerns and mounting legislation have prompted browsers to announce they are stopping the use of third-party cookies, driving the need for marketers to adapt. It’s actually been a year since Google announced its plan to phase it out of the Chrome browser by the end of 2021.
Over the past several months, a number of solutions have surfaced from existing players in the space, emerging ad tech companies, and industry working groups. While we could spend hours getting lost in the world of hashed IDs, clean rooms, cohorts, and cryptographically-signed tokens, I would rather take a step back and outline some key takeaways and advice for brands and marketers as we embark on the journey to a cookieless future. I'll boil it down to three key statements.
1. The death of the cookie is a chance to rebuild transparency and trust.
The cookie was created in 1994, when the internet was a vastly different place. It was designed to give websites the ability to personalize experiences for their visitors, to remember user settings, or maintain the contents of an e-commerce shopping cart. And the third-party cookie also introduced the possibility to track users across the web. While this paved the way for interest-based and programmatic advertising, the opaque nature of the cookie also perpetuated a diminishing trust among consumers. But the internet has since changed, dramatically. Web-connected devices are nearly ubiquitous, and consumers are moving fluidly across multiple devices. Spaces like mobile apps, connected TV and voice have emerged without support for cookies at all. The demise of the third-party cookie should be recognized as an opportunity to rebuild a solution that is interoperable, but more importantly, one that is also rooted in transparency and trust.
2. The path forward will not be a "one size fits all."
If you're waiting for the replacement for the cookie to arrive on your doorstep, you'll likely be met with disappointment. The reality is that there are multiple solutions being proposed across various use cases within targeting, personalization and measurement. Google's Privacy Sandbox, a new initiative aimed at creating privacy compliant solutions for advertisers within the Chrome browser, has several that are in review and discussion, and other players have emerged with additional solutions. Many of these emerging solutions are based on first party-data; but how much of this asset a brand has varies greatly. A DTC brand, for example, may have plenty of first-party data and is therefore well positioned to take advantage of an ID- based solution. But a CPG brand may find it more difficult to maintain direct relationships with its consumers and might look more in the direction of a cohort-based approach (cohorts are privacy safe groupings of users based on similar browsing habits or interests, where individuals are theoretically indistinguishable from one another). And many brands will take a combined approach, leveraging first-party data where their customers have allowed, supplementing with a cohort-level approach, and even exploring the resurgence of context targeting. Each brand will need to find the right balance across these solutions based on their existing technology infrastructure, their investment strategy, and their access to first party data.
3. Collaboration will be key to success.
We have found ourselves at a very important time in marketing history. We have the opportunity to step back and think about appropriate and effective solutions to market to consumers in a way that they can understand and trust. Industry working groups, such as the ANA's Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media (PRAM), and the IAB Tech Lab's Project Rearc, are being assembled to bring together the collective voices of advertisers, publishers, and technology companies in an effort to build collaborative proposals and solutions. We have an opportunity to come together as an industry to preserve the idea of the free and open internet, while respecting consumer privacy. At the very least, brands should take this time to understand the solutions that are being developed in the marketplace and assess the path forward that is best for their business.