The Sky is Falling for Digital Marketers (Again)

How Google is Abandoning Third Party Cookies and What You Can Do About it

If you’re connected in any way to digital marketing, you’ve undoubtedly been exposed to the big news from on high. Google’s Chrome browser will be following the lead of competing browsers, like Firefox and Safari, by phasing out third-party cookies by 2022 (so there’s plenty of time left to panic––or, PLAN for it, rather).

Google didn’t exactly take over the internet by practicing the virtues of a selfless existence, so many were taken aback by the company’s reported backtracking on third-partiers, especially when roughly 90% of their revenue comes from advertising. Google has thrived on the monetization of data. But experts say trends in privacy and consumer protections have foretold of this day for some time, so we’d be more than a little naïve to pretend it wasn’t coming.

Jeepers, Creepers!

For those who may be playing catch-up, third party cookies are how you continue to see suspiciously relevant ads, wanted or not, for things you may (or may not) have expressed interest in by clicking a link (or accidentally tapping the wrong spot on your phone!). These forensic delights are like fingerprints all over that website you were exploring. Every link you clicked. Every video you watched. Every move you made was under surveillance by something deceptively named a ‘cookie.’ Sounds harmless enough, right? How threatening can a sugary dessert morsel be?

But, “relevance” arguments notwithstanding, being “followed” around and/or predictively modeled and sold to can be downright unsettling. Sure…you were curious one day about the price of an Alaskan Cruise. Now every day since, and every single browsing session, you’ve been subject to an unrelenting wave of cruise liner deals in the margins of your window.

Let’s just call it what it is: STALKING. And while we marketers like to believe there’s some value to the consumer in serving up ads that are more “personalized to their interests,” it still feels creepier than that high school ex- who’s been regularly “viewing your profile” on LinkedIn.

Blame it all on Cambridge Analytica

Those brilliant bastards may have inadvertently shut down the metaphorical online ‘peep show’ for everyone when it was revealed how personal data can be effectively weaponized in the wrong hands. People started asking questions. Like U.S. Senators. And ensuing consumer outrage resulted in a dramatic shift away from third party data aggregation. Just when we started getting good at it!

Truthfully, though, the desire for browsing privacy has been around for a long time. Incognito. Stealth. InPrivate. For years, enhanced tracking prevention has been affording individuals a means of ‘laying low’ in the war on privacy, and not without an impact on advertising. Publishers have been reporting declines in programmatic ad buys thanks to restrictions on intelligent tracking. And when the GDPR and CCPA went into effect over the past year, matters were made even worse for the cookie-dependent.

The truth is, people don’t mind a more personalized browsing experience, and will often consent to first-party cookie collection if it spares them a little loading time or makes subsequent visits to a site easier to navigate. But people DON’T like their behavior being tracked via third-party cookies so that they can, (at best) be targeted by ads deemed “relevant” to them, or (at worst) peddled an endless stream of misinformation intended to influence their beliefs and actions. ß There are some fascinating documentaries on Netflix if you want to dive deeper into this.

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So Now What?

Budget-conscious marketers, in recent years, have really come to rely on the pinpoint accuracy afforded by third party cookie-crunching. So it’s time once again to get crafty. If you’ve got a fat wallet, sure…you’ll still be able to reach who you need to the ‘old fashioned’ way: contextual shotgunning. But if you’ve relied on third-party data to sharpen your targeting and maximize your meager budget, well, this could spell the end for any designs of world domination you may have had…especially when Google has been conspicuously slow to roll out cookie ‘alternatives.’

What can be done? Well, as third-party adtech providers become marginalized, big first-party data sources like Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, and – yep – Google (already the world’s largest online advertising company) stand to become that much more important (and powerful…if you can even imagine that!). Yes, the internet giants are swimming in an abundance of detail-rich user data that may become the marketer’s best bet moving forward, for those who can afford it. If not, don’t despair. You may just have to get resourceful.

Here are a few things that may help as you look to the third-party-cookie-free horizon:

  • They’re not gone yet. Maximize third party cookies while you can if they’re a part of your strategy, and see what kind of insights you might glean about the behavior of your best customers before the lights go out.
  • Start testing strategies now for life beyond third-party cookies. If you need help strategizing, align with a digital marketing and CRM-savvy partner who can offer suggestions.
  • Start looking at contextual and keyword targeting as alternatives to leaning on cookies. They may not offer the granular kind of detail you’d been used to, but they have improved over the years.
  • Partnerships can afford an interesting opportunity for marketers seeking ways to assimilate their targeting strategies with other like-minded companies. Are there mutually-beneficial data-sharing opportunities right under your nose?
  • Finally, stay optimistic…innovation will undoubtedly yield alternatives we have not yet thought of. Many believe Google will ultimately come through with an alternative to support budget-conscious marketers who’d depended on behavioral tracking. And if they don’t, the odds are pretty good that some enterprising adtech innovator will.

If you’d like a shoulder to cry on, or just want to chat more about the future of adtech, digital marketing, or strategies for navigating this change, drop us a line!


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