The death of third-party cookies is inevitable, the death of effective digital advertising is not

May 6, 2022

Google’s update on 3 March on third-party cookies didn’t come as a huge surprise to many, but it has sent shockwaves through the advertising community.

Google had already announced it was removing support for third-party cookies in Chrome as of 2022, but it has now confirmed it will not build or integrate other forms of identifiers to track individuals browsing the web.

Why is this big news for the online advertising industry?

There have been several ID solutions that have emerged with some driving decent adoption. However, this latest announcement creates a big question mark around such solutions in the long term. Unsurprisingly, many commentators have argued that Google is using consumer privacy as a lever to further raise their walls and protect their position from the competition.

Irrespective of whether people agree with this, it means that in the long run advertisers will have bigger issues deciding which solutions and technologies to adopt, and most crucially whether those solutions will provide scale – especially in markets outside the United States. So where does this leave advertisers?

A number of scenarios could emerge:

  1. There is a chance that some advertisers may do little, avoiding the leap of moving first and waiting until third-party cookies cease to exist before being forced to act. This approach could be riskier than using this interim period to test, evaluate and learn about different solutions in market.
  2. Some brands may decide to, or be pushed into, pouring even more budget towards walled gardens. That could be detrimental for brands in the long run, as it will starve alternative media sources from entering the market or growing – ultimately resulting in a restriction of inventory choice for advertisers – and be a fatal blow for smaller publishers.
  3. Advertisers may decide to increase budgets towards contextual advertising or the ability to reach audiences by indexed pages and keywords. Brands would need to accept a lower degree of targeting granularity and face issues with measurement and attribution.
  4. Alternatively, they could ignore Google and continue down the road of adopting identity solutions and technologies that rely on authenticated traffic. There are known issues of scale in markets like the UK.

To complicate matters further, Google may also follow Apple in the pursuit of blocking email identifiers in apps. Apple has already implemented changes to its iOS14 operating system, irrespective of these identifiers being collected with consent. This would reduce addressable audiences in mobile, adding to the shrinking addressability headache.

This could paint a gloomy picture for brands, however we believe there is light ahead.

Privacy-conscious alternatives

We believe the answer to the end of third-party cookies is empowering media publishers and advertisers to collaborate effectively on identity, without having to share or expose consumer data between them. The latest ‘clean room’ and data decentralisation technology allows us to do this securely, connecting first-party IDs of participating parties.

Addressable audiences can be achieved at scale without personal data needing to travel between tech platforms.

Once consumer privacy, data security and collaboration are achieved, the big question for advertisers would be scale. There is no need to compromise on addressability by implementing authenticated solutions in isolation. Addressable audiences can be achieved at scale without personal data needing to travel between tech platforms, and while maintaining consumer privacy at the highest standard. This is what Experian Match enables.

While Google has drawn the line on cross-site IDs, it has further announced and encouraged publishers to adopt single-site identifiers. With Experian Match, there is no need to create or expose cross-site IDs in the bidstream as the keying is done within a secure decentralised environment. The result is that all participating parties retain control of their first-party data assets.

Despite big industry shifts, brands’ objectives will remain unchanged. They will need to continue to understand, identify and engage their audiences across channels securely.

Google’s answer in replacing individual identifiers is around aggregation and anonymisation, ‘hiding’ individuals in large groups of people with similar interests. This is far from a new concept, but it is one that works.

Experian has been helping thousands of brands to understand their customers and help them find new ones using advanced analytics and modelling, grouping individuals’ preferences, interests and socio-demographic data points into segments. We call that segmentation. We are good at it. Others in the space are good at it too. We don’t believe segmentation requires reinventing, but we are glad it is being recognised as such a powerful tool.

In digital advertising, groups can be created large enough to include a number of households, removing the personal data issue and achieving anonymisation. Most importantly, this allows brands to understand their own first-party data and find more consumers like those, across channels, consistently. Couple that with Experian Match and you get a formula to achieve privacy-centric addressability and scale.

Our message is therefore simple – options exist and all roads do not have to lead to Google.

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