The Death of the Cookie (and what’s coming next)

Like a badly staged melodrama, the cookie’s death has dragged on for a long, long time. How long? Well, how about this Business Insider article going back to 2013. And admittedly, there was a draft of this blog that I started but never finished back in 2014. Now, however, the cookie’s end draws night with a deadline in sight.

What was announced.

On Tuesday, January 14, Google announced its intent to make third-party cookies obsolete in its Chrome browser “within a couple of years.”

This was big news, even though cookie blocking has been going on for a while. Apple blocked cookies with its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) introduced into its Safari browser in 2017. Mozilla recently introduced cookie blocking into its Firefox browser.

What made this news so big is the worldwide browser market share (source: StatCounter):

  • Google: 63.62%
  • Safari: 17.68%
  • Firefox: 4.39%

By the end of the day, ad-tech company Criteo stock crashed nearly 16% to a 52-week low.

To say Google’s announcement made waves may be an understatement. But with the enactment of GDPR in Europe and California’s CCPA policies to protect privacy, everyone knew it was coming. After all, the death of the cookie has been predicted for 7+ years.

Predictions for what this means.

Frankly, predictions from digital marketers, martech, and ad-tech professionals have been all over the board. Before we get into those, let’s first clarify what’s really being impacted.

The third-party cookie is going away. First-party cookies look to be sticking around for a little while longer at least. These cookies work within a website to pass your login information from page to page within a website. For example, as you shop, they communicate your data so you don’t have to login every time you click to browse a new item or add one to your cart.

Third-party cookies pass from site to site. They’ve played a big role in remarketing and programmatic display ads. With Google, Apple, and Firefox – or more than 85% of worldwide browser market share – blocking or no longer using cookies, the cookie’s usefulness has come to an end.

What comes next?

As we note, predictions have been all over the place. Some we’ve seen and heard include:

  • Location data becomes the next big thing
  • Mobile ad identifiers (MAIDs) will become the preeminent tool
  • SEOs and marketers should expect massive inflation of Google Analytics data
  • Marketers need to make a heavy investment in content

We don’t claim to know what, if anything, will replace the cookie. A lot of technologies have been tried since we first started talking about the death of the cookie.

We do think it possible some ad-tech companies may not survive the pivot. In fact, if they don’t evolve quickly enough, it could become a blood bath for many technology and SaaS companies. We hope everyone adapts and survives, but won’t be shocked if a seismic market shift like this leads to some attrition.

What brands should do.

We have several recommendations for our clients, marketers, and others concerned about this news.

  • Don’t panic. Yes, our first recommendation comes right out of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Don’t panic. Take a deep breath. This is not for brand marketers to solve. The big three – Google, Facebook, and Amazon – will need to sort this out. They have the most at stake, especially Google. (The end of third-party cookies together with a 65% browser market share could create a captive audience and lead to anti-trust implications, as Digiday notes.)
  • Improve your first-party data. Invest in best in class martech to capture, analyze, and understand your first-party data. This audience has already invested time in you and it makes sense to maximize your engagement with them. You do want to decrease reliance on third-party audiences.
  • Focus on contextual targeting. We expect contextual targeting to make a comeback. You’ll want to invest a little more time into understanding your audience and grouping keywords to keep your ads in front of them.
  • Mine your programmatic buys. You want to find you’re the best performing publishers. They may become future targets for direct ad buys. If you know who gives you the best audiences, you’ll be ready if, or when, your programmatic ad performance begins to drop off.

Finally, remember that the market is always changing. You need to be nimble, adaptable, and open to new ideas and trying new marketing approaches to reach audiences.

If you’d like to chat about any of these recent changes or how we might help you weather the storm, connect with us.