The Cookie Crumbles—and What It Means for Digital Marketing

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What happens when one of the biggest venues for digital advertising completely changes the way it does business?

Everyone who advertises online has to change what they do, too.

Google announced in January that its Chrome browser will phase out third-party cookie support over the next two years. Coupled with their Privacy Sandbox, an open set of standards to enhance privacy online, the move is aimed at giving users more privacy, transparency, and control over how their data is used.

These are all good things. We love privacy and control, too.

But it might make life difficult for companies trying to market to the right customers.

Consumers Hate Cookies. But They Also Hate Irrelevant Ads.

With Chrome boasting nearly 48% of browser market share in the U.S. and over 64% worldwide, Google’s policy changes will have a huge impact on publishers, advertisers, and customers.

For years, cookies have given advertisers the ability to serve users highly relevant ads based on their behavior. Still seeing an ad for that pair of shoes you almost bought two weeks ago? That’s because of a cookie.

Safari and Firefox responded to privacy concerns early on by blocking third-party cookies completely. Advertisers can create workarounds to this, like “digital fingerprinting,” but such tracking methods are considered less ethical.

Blocking cookies without another way to deliver relevant ads and messaging diminishes the user experience and inhibits publishers’ funding. Recent studies have shown that removing cookies altogether can reduce funding for publishers by an average 52%. 

What’s Next, and What Does It Mean for Your Business?

The good news is, we’ve seen this coming. Privacy regulations and concerns have been on top of advertisers’ minds at least since the sanction of the European Union’s Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the more recent rollout of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Removing third-party cookies will be a game-changer, but it’s also in Google’s best interest to work out any kinks and alternatives before pulling the plug completely. The company has assured advertisers that it’s still determined to create a sustainable ad-supported web, which is obviously for its benefit, as well.

Google gave a two-year timeline for getting rid of cookies, so this won’t happen immediately. But some changes are already happening: The Chrome 80 release has started limiting insecure cross-site tracking. SameSite cookie labeling rules can be leveraged in order to secure cookies accordingly, allowing developers to control the intent of cookies more explicitly and enforcing more security for users.

Google’s long-term goal is to essentially re-architect the web, devising new industry standards that can be adopted across all advertisers, publishers, browsers, and consumers.

Some large publishers like The Washington Post are preparing for the future by developing their own advertising solutions, using first-party contextual data and matching it back to its existing audience pools. Not only does this remove dependency on third-party cookies, but publishers can also license out solutions, allowing them to scale and compete with platforms like Facebook and Google.

With rapid changes like this, it’s more important than ever for advertisers to have a strong partner with expertise in digital marketing. We’re keeping a close watch on updates as they come, and we’re accustomed to iterating new strategies every time Google or Facebook tweaks its algorithms.

To find out how FortyFour can guide your company through a rapidly evolving digital landscape, give us a call.

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