After years of delays and adjustments, Google’s plan to wipe out third-party cookies from Chrome is finally happening. Starting on 4 January, the tech giant began testing Tracking Protection, a new feature that limits cross-site tracking by restricting website access to third-party cookies by default.
Initially, this trial will impact only 1% of Chrome users globally, allowing industry players time to test their readiness for a web without third-party cookies. This also marks a key milestone in Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome by the end of the year.
In fact, Google has been talking about the importance of adopting privacy-centric, durable strategies and solutions for years. In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, a spokesperson said the company recommends a three-prong approach, including strengthening first-party data, and reducing data use to improve products with AI-powered solutions and privacy-preserving technologies.
“In April 2023 we published results of an experiment serving interest-based ads with a combination of privacy-preserving signals instead of third-party cookies. Campaign performance maintained a pretty high fidelity relative to third-party cookies-based performance. We strongly encourage other ad tech providers to start testing these and other privacy-preserving techs early to find the best outcomes,” the statement reads.
Will this set hurdles for effective digital advertising?
The long-awaited deprecation of cookies is finally beginning but Google’s solution, the Chrome Privacy Sandbox, which only works on a Chrome browser, likely doesn’t benefit anyone other than Google, according to Chris Ngan, general manager of Hong Kong and Taiwan, The Trade Desk.
“Removing third-party cookies appears to be just an exercise to position Chrome as a privacy-conscious browser, while attempting to do just enough to avoid the watchful eye of antitrust authorities, while in my view stopping digital advertising from reaching its full potential,” he added.
However, Nathan Petralia, former managing director, Merkle Hong Kong, said the cookieless future does not necessarily spell the end of effective digital advertising.
“While third-party cookies have enabled in-depth targeting and tracking, their loss pushes the industry to adapt with new strategies that can maintain personalisation and results while protecting user privacy,” he added.
First-party data should still be used to take the guesswork out of marketing, create thoughtful, personalised campaigns, and build amazing digital experiences all customers crave, said Laura Quigley, senior vice president, APAC at Integral Ad Science. “This approach, combined with a well-planned and thoughtful contextual targeting strategy, will ensure success in an age of privacy,” she added.
While retargeting and hyper-personalised ad experiences might become less effective, they open doors for other creative approaches, such as data-driven creativity, contextual relevance, brand storytelling, amongst others, she said.
How can industry players better embrace the cookieless future?
Google’s cookie phase-out presents a significant challenge and an opportunity. No silver bullet can replace its power, but a kaleidoscope of innovations has emerged: first-party data, contextual targeting, identity solutions and innovative measurement solutions.
True enough, key industry players have come together to create a patchwork of different identity solutions over the past few years. They cover not only the browser environment but also growing channels such as digital audio and streaming.
“These solutions have been built to do what cookies never could – benefit publishers and advertisers, while at the same time supporting the consumer experience,” The Trade Desk’s Ngan said.
Moving forward, marketers will need to be very clear about how consumer data is used, shared, and stored, with whom and for what purposes, said IAS’ Quigley.
On the other hand, advertisers have a real opportunity to make an impact without sacrificing specificity. Quigley said regulatory bodies such as IAB will play a key role in privacy compliance and setting the standards for contextual targeting.
“With the imminent ‘death of the cookie’, marketers will have to get innovative about their marketing, leading to a better connection, personalised, contextual offerings, and overall happier consumers,” she said.
Furthermore, marketers and advertisers should focus on diversifying their approach to data collection and audience targeting, said Petralia.
“Investing in first-party data strategies will become more crucial – improving direct customer relationships and collecting visitor data through engaging content and loyalty programs. Exploring new technologies like AI-driven predictive analytics and privacy-centric advertising platforms can also open up alternatives,” he added.
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