Updated: Aug 28, 2019
Written by Freddie Constable
Safari’s ITP, Chrome’s cookie crackdown, Firefox’s default blocking – what does it all actually mean?
People’s fears over their online privacy are at all-time high. That Facebook is listening to you through your phone and serving ads based on what it hears is a worryingly common held belief amongst the average consumer*. Concerns from consumers over how much Google “watches” you, and how they are actually doing it, is discussed more and more. A year since GDPR and these conversations are getting louder, and harder for the likes of Google to ignore. Especially as fines relating to GDPR start to add up, some of them a cool €50m at a time*.
So what changes are going to happen? The changes are largely to cookies and more specifically, to third party cookies. First party cookies are cookies created by the website you are visiting, and without them, the user experience would actually be a bit naff. For example, when you add something to your basket on one page and go to another page on site, it could treat you as a new user and remove that item from your basket so you have to add it again and again. Third party cookies are cookies that appear on the website you are visiting but are created by someone other than that website. These are the type of cookies that currently have a lot of uses for advertising.
Apple’s browser Safari and Mozilla’s browser Firefox have actually made changes already that block third party cookies as default. But neither Apple or Mozilla are reliant on ad revenues, making it an easier thing for them to do. Moreover both of these browsers have a comparatively small share of browser usage – meaning for the less digitally savvy marketer, you might not have even noticed.
With mounting privacy pressure, Google has announced it too is now going to be making changes to third party cookies in a bid to improve privacy. These changes aren’t going to be as strict as the changes already made by the likes of Safari’s ITP, but they are going to make it a lot easier for users to block third party cookies. Unlike Safari and Firefox, Chrome has the largest browser usage share – dependent how you are cutting the data, around 60%*. So subject to how these changes pan out, this one could be hard to ignore.
But what does it actually mean? Third party cookies are often used as a way to target specific groups of people with online ads (especially programmatic display) to ensure your ads are being seen by the most relevant people and improve your ad's performance. Third party cookies are also often used to track the performance of different online ad campaigns to understand what they are generating, and what elements are working best. If everyone suddenly blocks them, on the most used browser, this could make a big difference to an advertiser heavily invested in digital.
There are a lot of people saying that it isn’t in Google’s best interests to help eliminate third party cookies when a big part of its business is built on advertising, especially in a year when it has reported revenue declining*. But with such mounting pressure on protecting privacy, in the long term they might not have a choice. Actually, more and more people are starting to say the writing is already on the wall for third party cookies, it is just a matter of time.
So how do we prepare for the changes ahead? We need to prepare for both the elements the dwindling power of the cookie will affect; targeting and measurement.
Firstly, look at what suppliers you have on your current digital plans, speak to them too. How reliant is their sophisticated and granular targeting on third party cookies? Do they have any contingency plans to change their model? Then start considering suppliers you might not have had on your plans before. Publishers and media owners with first party data, with logged in data, are going to start becoming more dominant and have more longevity. Start testing them now against your historic partners while you can balance the risk and find what the right fit is for you.
Secondly, look at how you track and measure the performance of your campaigns, any attribution modelling you might have. How much of this uses data from third party cookies? What other ways can you measure digital effectiveness? At the risk of sounding unglamorous, what can you learn from the way you measure the impact of your offline campaigns that have never had the luxury of a cookie? Are there granular digital tests it would be worth pushing up the priority list to get in now, before it becomes an issue?
At M.i. Media we are already asking these questions and preparing our answers for each of our clients, so if third party cookies do die, their digital advertising doesn’t.