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Google's recent announcement that it will block third-party cookies across its Chrome browser by 2022 has sent shockwaves around the advertising industry.
While this is not an entirely new development in internet privacy, as Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox have both implemented similar measures, Google jumping on the bandwagon represents the final nail in the coffin for third-party cookies.
Its decision to eliminate cookies once and for all raises big questions about the future of cross-site tracking, retargeting and ad-serving, which will force ad-tech companies to reimagine their businesses and advertisers to fundamentally shift the digital buying strategies they have been honing for 20+ years -- starting with targeting, attribution and measurement.
But with a new challenge comes fresh opportunity. As an industry defined by change, we should all begin embracing the opportunity to transform once again by creating digital advertising that adds up to more relevant and engaging brand experiences.
Once cookie-based audiences no longer exist, we will see new targeting strategies that do not rely on cookies such as contextual targeting begin to dominate in digital media.
Without cookies, first-party owned data will become substantially more valuable, limiting advertisers in search of measurable alternatives to publishers and platforms that have the ability to match first-party data in a cookie-less environment.
As a result, publisher log-in data will rule the landscape, giving Google and YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon an even a larger share of digital media spend because of their persistent log-ins and ability to track users.
Along with the ability to match audiences to log-in information, these walled gardens have extremely strong and scalable first-party data, allowing for the best forms of audience targeting.
With an enhanced ability to target individuals and fewer alternatives, publishers will be able to monetize their data at higher rates than ever before. We can also expect more publishers to require registration and user log-ins to view content, to help build their data and allow for stronger first-party customer matching. This in turn gives them the ability to sell stronger audience targeting.
Following Google's announcement, data ownership will be ever more important for advertisers and publishers. Digital will become less addressable, and media investment will more dramatically favor walled gardens. Multi-touch attribution as we know it will no longer be relevant, requiring a complete overhaul of media KPIs, forcing brands and agencies to align media strategies that are more oriented toward business results.
One of the biggest repercussions of a cookie-less world will be the emergence of new ways to measure and track advertising performance.
Google is proposing the use of their “Privacy Sandbox” as a way to measure cookie-less conversions, which uses activity stored within the browser instead of cookies. It is accessed through Google’s browser API, passing back a conversion value while limiting additional personal information associated with the conversion event.
Its “Privacy Sandbox” API will only collect post-click conversions, so this method of conversion tracking will have an additional set of repercussions. Mainly, in a post-click-only world, programmatic display will be forced to take a back seat to SEM.
Facebook will also come out a winner, not only for its targeting, but for its ability to take advantage of the shift to post-click conversion tracking. While Facebook has been a large part of nearly every company’s growth strategy, up until now integrated digital media buyers have struggled to demonstrate a true comparison of Facebook performance to other channels, due to Facebook walling off third-party view trackers.
Now with Facebook attribution and a plethora of conversion lift studies to show their effectiveness and incrementality, Facebook will have more opportunities to demonstrate its performance in this new measurement landscape.
OTT providers like Hulu, Sling and Xandr have the strongest and most scalable log-in information tied to Device IDs and content interest, putting them in the best position to build out audience targeting -- second only to Facebook and Google.
OTT will also benefit from other channels losing measurement capabilities, due to its conversion tracking parity. As programmatic loses cookies -- and ultimately its long enjoyed value proposition -- OTT will strengthen its position among the media mix, with strong audience targeting and more impactful units.
As cookies are phased out, we will see the value of conversions shift dramatically, leading to a host of digital buying innovation.
We can expect search CPCs to inflate as performance demand increases for the finite supply that exists outside of the emerging space of Voice Search.
Publishers' data will become more important than ever as more publishers will move to gate content and collect first-party data with log-ins.
In addition, walled gardens like Facebook will double down on becoming log-in channels for major publishers, creating strong audience networks that could pave the way to new attribution tools.
Ultimately, the anticipated decrease in data-driven targeting and measurement capabilities will require the marketers who rely on programmatic to fundamentally evolve, while publishers will need to deliver larger, more impactful units in a less cluttered environment.
One thing is for certain -- it will be exciting to be a part of the change to come over the next two years.
Not all Multi-Touch Attribution is completely dependent on 3rd Party Cookies. There are still accurate and useable solutions for MTA.
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