Tag Archive: cookie

  1. Clear history: Google confirms its plans to kill the cookie

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    In a blog post released on March 3rd, David Temkin, Google’s Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust, confirmed that Google would be killing off the cookie, as early as January 2022. He also clarified the tech giant’s plans for targeted advertising and a ‘privacy-first web’. The tech, media and advertising industries have all known this is coming – Google first announced that it would be stopping support for cookies on Chrome back in early 2020, and it is not the first browser to do so. However, the blog post has got everyone talking about Google’s search for alternative solutions to targeted advertising, as well as proposals from other players. So what does it mean? And where will it leave advertisers?

    Why is Google stopping support for cookies?

    Google, like the other tech giants, has come under increasing scrutiny and regulation around the world, with regulators and lawmakers looking very carefully at the company’s privacy and antitrust record. Indeed, two hires that the Biden administration recently made would appear to confirm that the US will continue to robustly enforce antitrust laws and other regulations. What’s more, there is a prevailing and increasing sentiment amongst internet users that they are worried about their privacy: in research conducted by Pew Research Center in 2019, 79% of American adults reported being somewhat or very concerned about the way their data is used by companies. It’s also as simple as a change in consumer habits: in the third quarter of 2020, mobile devices (excluding tablets) generated 50.81% of global website traffic – a share that has consistently hovered above the 50% mark since the start of 2017. Mobile browsers and apps don’t accommodate web-based cookie tracking as effectively as desktops, so there is a hole in advertisers’ ability to target their users.

    What is Google proposing as an alternative?

    Google’s statement earlier this month and the ensuing debate makes it clear that the industry is still only in the early stages of redefining how the online media market will work when the cookie becomes defunct. There is still a lot of uncertainty, and the industry is in a period of frantic experimentation, urgently seeking the best way to effectively target consumers with advertising.

    In his blog, Temkin promised that Google would not implement new ways to track individual users around the internet, and vowed that the company would only use privacy-preserving technology that relies on methods such as anonymisation and aggregation of data. Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative, which is seeking ways to protect privacy whilst allowing content to remain freely available on the open web, has plans to start testing one proposal with a group of advertisers in Q2 of this year. This proposal would group internet users based on similar browsing behaviours; only cohort IDs, rather than individual user IDs, would be used to target them. This approach is based on the same principle as Facebook’s, which offers advertisers the opportunity to target ads to certain categories of users based on their data. Google will be keen that this proposal is workable and appeals to brands, as marketers are already diversifying their ad spend up and down the funnel.

    Other players are exploring targeting alternatives as well

    It’s not just Google with skin in this game: other collectives and ad tech players are also seeking ways to balance privacy with personalised, targeted advertising. A major collective formed last summer, called the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media (PRAM), has brought together the IAB Tech Lab, the WFA, major advertisers like Ford, Unilever and IBM, media agencies, tech vendors and publishers. PRAM is proposing relacing cookie-based tracking with tracking tied to individual email addresses, whereby a user would log into a participating site with their email address or phone number, which would then be scrambled and used to keep tabs on them as they navigate other participating sites. Google has called this email-based approach impractical, and claims that it wouldn’t meet ‘rising consumer expectations for privacy’, or ‘stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions’ – and therefore wouldn’t be a sustainable investment in the long term.

    Even taking into consideration Google’s motives for casting doubt on whether cross-site individual tracking will meet consumers’ and legislators’ expectations and therefore the wisdom of investing in such a targeting methodology, the tech giant isn’t wrong in its conclusions. Many view this as a bold act by Google – they are soberly letting go of bad habits while others are just trying to cut back on the worst parts and hoping it will be enough. Perhaps Google’s statement was in fact the most helpful thing that they could do for the industry as it approaches this crossroads, pointing out that what they are trying to do won’t work, and they need to start over.

    Industry experts aren’t yet sold

    While some industry experts and commentators believe that Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposal would be an improvement on the current, cookie-supported situation, others are yet to be convinced. They claim that Google is just swapping one form of invasive tracking for another and could, for example, work out who a user is by cross-referencing their information with an email address from one of Google’s owned sites.

    They are equally sceptical about the email address approach, pointing out that it would be easy to ‘reverse-engineer’ a user’s identity by combining scrambled information with other information available in the public domain.

    What are the implications?

    The implications of Google’s announcement are still unclear, and the situation will continue to unfold over the coming months. It’s safe to say, however, that we will never see anything close to the breadth and width of tracking coverage that cookies have given marketers over the last 25 years. It is thought that the demise of the cookie will affect 85% of online advertising as we know it. New solutions will come from a wide range of different sources and approaches, so will be fragmented. What’s more, a large share of online traffic may not be identified at all; outside walled gardens, contextual targeting is likely to become the main tool. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it offers marketers the ability to deliver ads to consumers when they’re in a specific situation or frame of mind, which can only be a positive as consumer behaviour becomes more fragmented and unpredictable. It’s also an antidote to many of the issues around brand risk and safety.

    It’s worth bearing in mind that, just because the ways in which we manage reach, frequency and targeting are being fundamentally redesigned, it does not mean that people will radically alter their media consumption patterns, or that there won’t be any ways to target people online. Large sites with good user experience and consumer trust will retain their traffic and they will still be open for ads, even if impressions are anonymous. Ad impact on brand metrics and sales will remain, even when conversions can no longer be tracked. As Google said in their statement, ‘advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.’

    How should advertisers prepare and adapt for the post-cookie era?

    For now, advertisers need to understand which tools will be lost, which will remain uncertain and which will not change. They should also keep their ad tech flexible and rely on their media agencies for guidance and updates. This is probably not the best time to be investing in ad tech or in-housing.

    Looking ahead, even when data outside of Facebook and Google’s walled gardens is scarcer, advertisers should not resort to increasing their spend with these two platforms beyond what is proportional to media consumption patterns. They should also refrain from resorting to last-click attribution as view-through conversions tracking and MTA fail. Survey-based data and insights on brand metrics will undoubtedly surge.

    Many advertisers are, rightly, focusing on their valuable first-party data, exploring ways to leverage it in order to make better-informed advertising decisions. Many will seek to work with partners to establish a data-exchange from different sources, including with the walled gardens. Marketers will also be able to integrate their consumer research with their first-party data, giving a clearer picture of what consumers do, and why they do it. This will in turn allow them more effectively target audiences with the best messaging in the best context.

    The key takeaway? Hold tight – there’s no need to panic or do anything rash. Alternatives are being worked on and anyway, a world without the ability to track your consumers across the web might not be such a bad place.

    If you would like to discuss how you can prepare for the post-cookie era, please feel free to contact us:

    Header image: atk work / Shutterstock

  2. Will the demise of the cookie lead to better brand building opportunities online?

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    By Victoria Potter, US Business Director at ECI Media Management

    Google announced in January that it would be phasing out the cookie in its Chrome browser over the next two years. Apple’s Safari and Firefox have already killed off the cookie in their browsers, but Chrome is by far the most popular browser in the world with 64.1% of global market share in January 2020, so Google’s decision will lead to a major industry shift.

    A pivotal year for digital advertising

    2020, then, is a pivotal year for digital advertising. But exactly how it will change is as yet unclear: how will tech companies, agencies and advertisers react? Will the digital landscape change dramatically or imperceptibly? Will that change be positive or negative?

    An opportunity to refocus on brand building

    For a very long time, advertisers have been able to follow consumers from page to page across the internet, understanding their consumption patterns and using that insight for targeting. Focus has turned away from more difficult to measure brand building activity. It’s always easier to value what you can measure over what you can’t. But now that the cookie is on its way out, advertisers and agencies will need to re-evaluate what they use digital advertising for. Could brand building, traditionally the realm of TV and OOH, be one of its new uses?

    Harnessing digital to build relationships with consumers

    Before the advent of the cookie in particular, and digital advertising in general, building brands was always at the heart of advertising: trusted brands are fundamentally important in helping consumers make choices. In this new era of digital advertising, can we harness its strengths to make this the new way to build relationships with consumers and earn their trust, rather than just trying to push them to click and buy? This will be particularly important for brands who do not have access to high-quality first-party data, for example FMCG companies.

    Context-based media buying will become a key tool

    A key tool will be context-based media buying, with advertisers seeking out environments where their broader target audiences congregate. Ben Plomion of tech company GumGum advises that marketers should “use the insights they generate from their current cookie data to inform their future contextual strategies”. Technological advances and the growth of AI are making contextual advertising an increasingly powerful tool: they can be used to understand web page sentiment, understand linguistic nuances, verify the content and tone of images and video, and automatically configure ad creative so that it complements the context.

    Premium publishers are able to offer brands superior contextual advertising opportunities thanks to their high-quality inventory and relatively low ad loads, creating a better experience for the user. This means they can help advertisers obtain meaningful reach and build trust and connection – all valuable assets for a brand building campaign.

    Plan to build relationships with humans, not to reach consumers

    At the heart of these approaches is planning with humans – not ‘consumers’ – in mind. Without the targeting and measuring abilities associated with cookies, refocusing on enriching people’s lives through advertising will become critical for success – and that is why we believe the demise of the cookie should, on balance, be a good thing for advertisers.

    Walled gardens could increase the dominance of the tech giants

    There are some pitfalls to look out for. Of course, Google and Facebook’s walled gardens will be largely unaffected by the decline of the cookie (indeed, some believe that Google decided to kill the cookie so that it wouldn’t have to share its data with anyone else). Advertisers will still be able to leverage the first-party cookie within these walled gardens, which will further strengthen the tech giants’ position and even allow them to raise their prices, if advertisers don’t push for content strategies to find their target groups in the digital space.

    In the face of Google and Facebook’s strengthened position, publishers might be tempted to increase ad loads in order to avoid declining revenues; with advertisers struggling to drop their reliance on last click performance metrics, this could lead to an increase in irrelevant ads, which would in turn lead to a rise in ad blocking.

    It’s time to revisit priorities and foster deeper connections

    The decline of the cookie is a seminal moment in the history of online advertising. While it could undoubtedly spell trouble for those unwilling or unable to adapt, in our view advertisers should see it as an opportunity to reappraise and revisit priorities, and to create brand-building campaigns that foster deeper connections with human beings for greater trust.

    What’s your opinion?

    We would love to hear from brands, agencies and tech firms about how they envisage a cookie-less future. What do you think will happen? Do you think the decline of the cookie will usher in a golden era of advertising, or is your forecast less optimistic? Comment on our LinkedIn post, or email us at .

    Image: Kim Reinick/Shutterstock