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All Cookies Go Stale

All Cookies Go Stale

Christopher Merolle

Christopher Merolle

March 5, 2020

Christopher Merolle, Havas Media Group’s VP Group Director, MarTech and Data Consulting, talks about a future cookie-less world.

"We are heading towards a cookie-less world, and it’s understandable to be cautious of the crumble"

In January, Chrome announced plans to remove support of third-party cookies “within two years.” This earthquake of an announcement sent shockwaves throughout the industry since Chrome commands 65% of U.S. desktop browser share. While this is certainly significant, it’s not their first statement on the topic. In May 2019, Google Chrome introduced privacy and transparency features to be rolled out over the next 12 to 18 months. The browser privacy wars started at the end of 2017 with Apple’s release of Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) – an update that limited third-party cookie tracking. Firefox and Chrome followed suit and all three have been making incremental privacy updates since then. Some think the digital advertising doomsday clock is closer to expiring, but let’s all take a collective deep breath and reflect on the current state of the industry.

Digital advertising is known for highly targeted activation and robust measurement, but limitations exist stemming from the outdated cookie technology which wasn’t even created for advertising purposes. While cookies may seem like a strong backbone of the current ecosystem, they are simply a security blanket that we can’t quite get rid of.  We are heading towards a cookie-less world, and it’s understandable to be cautious of the crumble.

Working in advertising, I’m frequently asked interesting questions from friends and family.  “Why do I see the same ad 10,000 times?” And, “Why do I continue to see ads for something I already purchased,” are the most common ones and the answer to both is simple. The cookie is not built for true personalization with the right message in the right place at the right time.

Cookies are flawed for many reasons. Primarily, they represent browsers on a device rather than devices or people. For example, if I were to use three browsers on a laptop, three different cookie IDs are assigned to me. Cookies are not persistent and can be deleted and expire over time. They lead to a loss of data and when multiple cookie syncs are completed, the original audience size decrease in unison. Finally, the use of cookies is declining. Advertisers are investing in mobile and connected TV (CTV), which don’t leverage cookies.

Even with these flaws, some in the industry have an apocalyptic outlook as a result of this proposed change. Will digital activation (third-party data, retargeting, and audience-based targeting), measurement (frequency and view through/multi-touch attribution), and ad tech (DMPs and web analytics) crumble along with the demise of the third-party cookie? There may be some short-term limitations, but we will not time travel to the infancy of digital advertising. Instead, the largest ad and tech companies are actively pursuing alternative solutions to maintain and increase the value of digital, while also respecting user privacy concerns.

There are a few cookie alternatives being explored, including Sandbox API (Google Privacy Sandbox and other API solutions), Persistent IDs (Mobile Advertising IDs for desktop devices), First Party Proxy (Amazon, Facebook and Google use sign-in for a deterministic approach) and Fingerprinting, which combines device attributes to identify users while maintaining user-level ID.

Listening to and speaking with numerous industry leaders at conferences and meetings, I can tell you with certainty that there unfortunately is no one silver bullet. Additional solutions will continue to be brainstormed in the coming months. Google’s Privacy Sandbox will be tested internally this year, and Chrome’s plans to remove support of third-party cookies will not take effect until after the industry develops a new way to meet advertisers’ needs. In the interim, it’s important to focus on the following steps to organize people, platforms, and processes to future proof your business and prepare for a cookie-less world.

Read & Understand

  • Read about recent technology and regulatory updates to stay current on the ever-changing situation
  • Understand the impact on the digital marketing ecosystem

Monitor, Evaluate, & Engage

  • Monitor browser updates and changes in activation/measurement
  • Evaluate potentially affected campaign workflows and your current ad & marketing tech stack for futureproofing
  • Engage with tech and industry partners to determine their cookie-less approach

Adapt & Evolve

  • Adapt to these changes by resetting benchmarks and partnering with identity solutions such as LiveRamp and Neustar for cross-device targeting and persistent measurement
  • Evolve activation by focusing on first party data (CRM & Mobile Ad IDs) with a 360-degree customer view and determining campaign measurement alternatives

Let’s all remember our breathing exercises. The world is not ending, and frankly third-party cookies aren’t going away tomorrow (or even in the next year – it takes a while for cookies to go stale). At Havas Media, we are partnering with Google, publishers, and tech partners to prepare for the future. We have an opportunity to improve the privacy and consent framework as well as digital advertising capabilities for enhanced activation, measurement, and most importantly personalization. Through this process, we will work better together to make media experiences more meaningful in the long run.

"We are heading towards a cookie-less world, and it’s understandable to be cautious of the crumble"

In January, Chrome announced plans to remove support of third-party cookies “within two years.” This earthquake of an announcement sent shockwaves throughout the industry since Chrome commands 65% of U.S. desktop browser share. While this is certainly significant, it’s not their first statement on the topic. In May 2019, Google Chrome introduced privacy and transparency features to be rolled out over the next 12 to 18 months. The browser privacy wars started at the end of 2017 with Apple’s release of Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) – an update that limited third-party cookie tracking. Firefox and Chrome followed suit and all three have been making incremental privacy updates since then. Some think the digital advertising doomsday clock is closer to expiring, but let’s all take a collective deep breath and reflect on the current state of the industry.

Digital advertising is known for highly targeted activation and robust measurement, but limitations exist stemming from the outdated cookie technology which wasn’t even created for advertising purposes. While cookies may seem like a strong backbone of the current ecosystem, they are simply a security blanket that we can’t quite get rid of.  We are heading towards a cookie-less world, and it’s understandable to be cautious of the crumble.

Working in advertising, I’m frequently asked interesting questions from friends and family.  “Why do I see the same ad 10,000 times?” And, “Why do I continue to see ads for something I already purchased,” are the most common ones and the answer to both is simple. The cookie is not built for true personalization with the right message in the right place at the right time.

Cookies are flawed for many reasons. Primarily, they represent browsers on a device rather than devices or people. For example, if I were to use three browsers on a laptop, three different cookie IDs are assigned to me. Cookies are not persistent and can be deleted and expire over time. They lead to a loss of data and when multiple cookie syncs are completed, the original audience size decrease in unison. Finally, the use of cookies is declining. Advertisers are investing in mobile and connected TV (CTV), which don’t leverage cookies.

Even with these flaws, some in the industry have an apocalyptic outlook as a result of this proposed change. Will digital activation (third-party data, retargeting, and audience-based targeting), measurement (frequency and view through/multi-touch attribution), and ad tech (DMPs and web analytics) crumble along with the demise of the third-party cookie? There may be some short-term limitations, but we will not time travel to the infancy of digital advertising. Instead, the largest ad and tech companies are actively pursuing alternative solutions to maintain and increase the value of digital, while also respecting user privacy concerns.

There are a few cookie alternatives being explored, including Sandbox API (Google Privacy Sandbox and other API solutions), Persistent IDs (Mobile Advertising IDs for desktop devices), First Party Proxy (Amazon, Facebook and Google use sign-in for a deterministic approach) and Fingerprinting, which combines device attributes to identify users while maintaining user-level ID.

Listening to and speaking with numerous industry leaders at conferences and meetings, I can tell you with certainty that there unfortunately is no one silver bullet. Additional solutions will continue to be brainstormed in the coming months. Google’s Privacy Sandbox will be tested internally this year, and Chrome’s plans to remove support of third-party cookies will not take effect until after the industry develops a new way to meet advertisers’ needs. In the interim, it’s important to focus on the following steps to organize people, platforms, and processes to future proof your business and prepare for a cookie-less world.

Read & Understand

  • Read about recent technology and regulatory updates to stay current on the ever-changing situation
  • Understand the impact on the digital marketing ecosystem

Monitor, Evaluate, & Engage

  • Monitor browser updates and changes in activation/measurement
  • Evaluate potentially affected campaign workflows and your current ad & marketing tech stack for futureproofing
  • Engage with tech and industry partners to determine their cookie-less approach

Adapt & Evolve

  • Adapt to these changes by resetting benchmarks and partnering with identity solutions such as LiveRamp and Neustar for cross-device targeting and persistent measurement
  • Evolve activation by focusing on first party data (CRM & Mobile Ad IDs) with a 360-degree customer view and determining campaign measurement alternatives

Let’s all remember our breathing exercises. The world is not ending, and frankly third-party cookies aren’t going away tomorrow (or even in the next year – it takes a while for cookies to go stale). At Havas Media, we are partnering with Google, publishers, and tech partners to prepare for the future. We have an opportunity to improve the privacy and consent framework as well as digital advertising capabilities for enhanced activation, measurement, and most importantly personalization. Through this process, we will work better together to make media experiences more meaningful in the long run.

Chris Merolle is responsible for leading data strategy and marketing/advertising technology consulting engagements across multiple clients.

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