Uncertainty, opportunity, and celebration: Industry leaders on the death of the third-party cookie

The death of the third-party cookie is here, but what does it really mean for the industry? Media buyers, marketers and platforms share their thoughts on what comes next.

The death of the third-party cookie is here, and with it, the transformation of digital marketing as we know it.

Google’s official deprecation roadmap saw third-party cookies disabled for 1% of Chrome user from 4 January, with a complete phase out penciled for Q3 this year.

Set to create further fragmentation within the digital environment, and leaving gaping holes in measurement and targeting practices, the loss of the cookie has left some scrambling to find solutions.

Amidst looming threat of the unknown, many pockets of the industry are wholly optimistic about the cookie-less future, but there still seems to be a lack of consensus as to the best way forward.

With the true impacts of the cookie’s demise yet to be seen, iProspect’s chief digital officer Mark Byrne urges the advertisers and agencies to view this first phase as an “invitation to assess the viability of a cookieless environment”.

“As with any invitation,” he says, “you can choose to ignore it – and hope that deadlines blow out (possible), or that a single, elegant solution is created (unlikely).”

Media buyers welcome the prospect of a cookieless future

Despite the uncertainty, Murmur Group managing director Dave Levett says the industry should be “celebrating” a future beyond digital attribution.

“‘I’m a real skeptic around attribution modeling so I can’t wait for this to come in, because it means that anyone relying on attribution modeling is gonna have to really step back and look at the whole picture,” he tells Mumbrella.

“I think everyone’s scared at the moment because everyone’s using ROAS (return on ad spend) and ROI (return on investment) as a way to justify their investments or their budgets, rather than looking at a holistic model, which is much harder to do.”

In Levett’s view, the death of the third-party cookie will force advertisers and agencies to be “smarter” when targeting audiences. He underlines too the need for greater contextual targeting and relationship building with partners that have their own first party data.

Dave Levett, Murmur Founder

Dave Levett, founder and managing director, Murmur Group

Kaimera’s chief digital officer, Trent McMillan also welcomes the opportunity to move away from what has been “a flawed system for the best part of a decade”.

Speaking to Mumbrella, McMillan was critical of the industry’s historical over reliance on cookies, which he says has “born about a whole host of pretty lazy and bad practice from some of the platforms.”

As he sees it, using cookies to retarget consumers at bottom of the funnel is a practice that has done little in terms of driving “added value” for clients.

“I think we’ll clean up a lot of that and hopefully get us to a stage where we can be investing our client’s dollars more efficiently, driving better returns and incremental sales.”

But while the benefits are clear, the full scope of impacts experienced by advertisers will hinge on their dependence on the current third-party systems.

Poorani Adewole, chief data, tech and analytics officer, EssenceMediacom

“Whether it be negative or positive to the client is going to be based on their level of sophistication in say, the level of dependency in digital advertising to its current state,” says EssenceMediacom’s chief data, tech and analytics officer, Poorani Adewole.

“I think you’re going to find that as advertisers and agencies, the key thing for us has been focused on the short wins that will prevent a detrimental effect. But, at the same it’s about then looking at other side of measurement, which is the old school ways of applying MMM (media mix modelling) back into the mix of things.”

But Byrne is optimistic that the shift will ultimately make way for a “more robust ecosystem” to emerge.

“For me, a big part of this will be how we bring media and customer experience (CX) teams together,” says Byrne. “My gut feeling is that advertisers that flourish in the long term will need to integrate these two teams, as they are essentially two sides of the same coin. As first party data becomes increasingly important as an alternative to third party cookies, the ability to collect more of this data (through a great CX) and extract the full value from it (through media), will take centre stage.”

Mark Byrne, chief digital officer, iProspect

Google’s delays have created complacency and confusion

While buyers seem to agree that Google’s deprecation process is ultimately a good thing, they do not understate the extent of the short-term impacts.

And for McMillan, Google’s delay in commencing the deprecation process has only served to create more confusion.

He suggests that there might have been a better outcome had Google “ripped off the band aid”, arguing that the drawn-out process only serves to benefit Google and Meta by “[fortifying] their own walled gardens” and “increasing the value of their first party data”.

“There will be a lot of people that are definitely unprepared, and they might be undone from a campaign measurement standpoint,” he says. “They might waste potential budgets because their targeting approach hasn’t been tweaked, or they haven’t invested in their own collection of first-party data to really help feed a lot of the new ‘next generation’ solutions.”

Trent McMillan, chief digital officer, Kaimera

“When something’s so prolonged, the urgency dissipates,” adds Adewole, pointing to the sudden rush for publishers and partners to address deprecation at the “tail end” of 2023.

“For us, last year was very much about making sure we’re educating our clients that ‘this is no longer a nice to have it is something you’re going to have to do’. ”

“This year particular it’s probably going to be a conversation that’s going to happen more often. The industry will probably also take a bit more of a stance around what we can do, because there’s a lot of uncertainties and speculation of what it is actually going to mean.”

How are advertisers preparing for the change?

Advertisers will be at the effective ‘coal face’ of the post-cookie world, but Flight Centre’s Clinton Hearne is confident that the industry is ready to adapt to the change.

He says marketers are “stepping up methods of gathering first-party online visitor data” through enhancing sign-ups and eDM subscriptions. He explains that customers will “willingly share relevant personal information in exchange for opportunities to access items like personalised deals, value offers and the expectation that their interactions will be easier and more tailored to their interests.”

But, with this expansion of first-party data gathering, he notes that marketers will need to pay close attention to their “legal responsibilities” when “obtaining consent from users to gather their data for things like personalised targeting”.

Clinton Hearne, global head of marketing, Flight Centre

He also points to the importance of collaboration between advertisers, publishers and technology providers, with shared solutions and industry standards likely to be developed in response to “common challenges”.

“Marketers will need to be smart as a raft of new solutions will be thrust upon them by publishers and media agencies, each backing their own systems and methodologies.”

As a whole, Hearne says that the industry is “winning”, despite the short-term setbacks.

“Shifting data gathering away from anonymous third-party cookies and towards a greater emphasis on first-party cookies provides us with a better aggregated measurement across devices by delivering a data collection model that is compatible with both app and web environments.”

Spotify, itself an advertiser and platform, looks set to hold a strong position in the cookieless world.

Liam Hickey, Spotify’s head of automation for JAPAC, says he expects agencies and brands to shift to “platforms and publishers with strong first-party data and more contextual targeting”.

Liam Hickey, head of automation JAPAC, Spotify

“Brands can continue to leverage Spotify’s first-party data (what we call our ‘streaming intelligence’) to target users based on how they behave on the platform and their app preferences. Having a logged-in audience, with one unique identifier also means that we can continue to deliver on cross-device strategies including but not limited to Connected Home, Audio Everywhere, and In-Car targeting.”

Hickey says that cookie deprecation won’t majorly affect Spotify’s ability to deliver targeted ad experiences, given its logged-in, in-app environment.

In a bid to future-proof Spotify’s measurement capabilities, the platform also recently launched Spotify Ad Analytics, allowing advertisers to continue tracking performance.

Henrik Isaksson, managing director, Acast AUNZ,

Managing director of Acast AUNZ, Henrik Isaksson, is largely of the same view that contextual targeting will be the way forward in the cookieless environment.

He says that the deprecation of cookies is “only a small part of the digital marketing landscape”, with publishers like Acast all offering up their own versions of pixel-based attribution and third-party data solutions that will help advertisers to “find their audience”.

“There are so many ways marketers can enrich the user experience by creating contextually relevant journeys, third party vendors for audience identification or alternate the media mix which invites the consumer to engage with a brand in ways they haven’t done in the past.”

So what’s next?

If the industry agrees on anything, it’s that the next 12 to 18 months are going to be one big loop of testing and measuring.

Adewole admits that despite the speculation, and efforts to get ahead of the changes, no one really knows what the true extent of the impacts of deprecation will be.

“We can say [what we’ll do to] prepare but we don’t actually know till something happens.”

Like every technological evolution before it, the industry will have to adapt to the new cookieless world, but whether that’s for better or worse, only time will tell.


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