22 Jan 2020
Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome will change how brands target consumers. Florian Thiebaut, Consulting Director at Artefact Paris, assesses the impact.

It’s finally happened. On Tuesday 14 January 2020, Google announced that it will phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome within two years, with trials to start by the end of 2020. While this announcement won’t come as a surprise for many advertisers, this deadline puts them under pressure to get their (data) houses in order.

Cookies, of course, are the data files that allow websites to log users’ activity on the site, while third-party cookies let them share that information with other technology partners too. They are invaluable to advertisers, who use demand-side platforms (DSPs), Data Management Platforms (DMPs) and retargeting platforms (which harvest cookie data) to plan hyper-targeted digital campaigns, attribute business value to digital activation and measure engagement beyond clicks.

Google’s decision to drop support for these cookies will completely change the way advertisers can target consumers through its Chrome browser. Simply put, cutting the supply chain to these third-party data platforms will limit what advertisers can learn about consumers when they leave their owned channels.

Why has this happened?

Google isn’t the first company to limit the volume of data advertisers can collect from its browser. In 2019, Apple made similar moves to restrict cookies in Safari, while Mozilla’s Firefox now blocks them completely.

According to Justin Schuh, Chrome’s director of engineering, this is down to increasing concerns about data privacy. In a recent blog post, he wrote: “Users are demanding greater privacy–including transparency, choice and control over how their data is used–and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands.”

After 2022, Google will continue to collect data from Chrome users, but it won’t be sharing it – at least not in detail. Instead, Google wants advertisers to work within its Privacy Sandbox – a suite of tools that lets advertisers run targeted ads without having direct access to users’ personal details.

Why does this matter to advertisers?

Google’s decision to drop cookies will reinforce its walled garden. While the Privacy Sandbox environment will likely allow for some attribution measurement, advertisers will no longer be able to create one-to-one advertising or track impressions on a granular level outside of the Google environment. They’ll only know what Google wants them to know.

To assess the potential impact of this change, we need only look back to 2018 when Google stopped advertisers using its DoubleClick IDs to support their measurement and attribution in Europe. By restricting this data, Google pushed advertisers toward its Ads Data Hub (ADH) as an alternative.

The ADH lets advertisers access detailed, impression-level data about media campaigns – but users can only analyse clusters of data and export aggregated results. The granular detail that was open to advertisers has disappeared. Google’s decision to drop cookies promises more of the same.

What to do now

The challenge for advertisers between now and 2022 is to find a way to ensure conversion tracking measurement and personalised targeting remains independently verifiable, but without the use of third-party cookies.

The solutions aren’t immediately clear, but advertisers can prepare for the future by getting their houses in order and taking control of their first-party data.

If you are a marketer, you can begin by taking the following actions:

  1. Identify the data opportunities in your campaign strategies. Make sure you coordinate internal and external stakeholders during a campaign’s planning stages. Ensure everyone knows how the activation will collect data and drive sales in order to ensure information doesn’t fall through the cracks later on.
  2. Implement a best-in-class tool ecosystem. The right tools will help you adapt to this new cookie-less environment and let you activate campaigns and track campaign interactions independently. Your digital agency can help you create the right ecosystem for your needs.
  3. Build a best-of-breed data architecture. This will let you collect and process data before sending it back for activation in a flexible and sustainable way. The ‘bricks’ need to be replaceable though, in order to adapt to the changing landscape. Don’t become hyper-dependent on one technology.
  4. Define clear processes between internal and external stakeholders. When managing your own data, it’s vital that everyone involved knows how your process works so they can automate certain data-specific tasks and work together on others.
  5. Define strict measurement methodologies. Understanding how you will define your campaign’s success in the earliest planning stages is the first step to enabling independent multi-channel attribution.
  6. Build a data-driven marketing team. Consider how you can reshape your organisation’s structure for data-driven marketing and identify your key data experts. You need to work with data-skilled people (internal and external) who can develop APIs to connect all your tools to make the most of your ecosystem.
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