It’s already been a year since major web publishers and the top web browsers, like Apple Safari, Google Chrome and even Mozilla Firefox, announced a significant change that will lead to major repercussions on marketing activities: the gradual abolition of third-party cookies and a reduction in the abilities of first-party cookies. This phenomenon has been referred to as the cookie apocalypse.
What is a cookie?
A cookie is a small text file that is copied to a user’s hard drive in order to identify them.
There are two types of cookies: first-party cookies, which are generated by the servers of sites that are visited, and third-party cookies, which are generated by servers other than those of the visited site.
While this may seem to be a very technical or abstract subject, cookies are actually indispensable to a large number of routine digital marketing activities, such as retargeting a user that viewed a product or service on your site.
For several years, digital privacy protection has drawn more and more attention, which has led to the cookie apocalypse we are experiencing today.
Basically, we’re beginning a new era in which browsers and platforms aim to present themselves as guardians of their users’ privacy. While the intention behind this change of attitude may seem noble, it is first and foremost a way for these companies to distinguish themselves from their competitors. For example, Apple has been singing this tune for many years already, borrowing the concept in particular from Blackberry.
These announcements from big players like Google and Apple will definitely have consequences for your everyday activities. The disappearance of third-party cookies and the limitations on first-party cookies will affect (or prevent) many initiatives, such as:
Do any of these different use cases seem familiar to you? If so, then you will inexorably be subjected to the effects of the cookie apocalypse, which is not merely knocking at the door, but has in fact already arrived.
The cookie apocalypse should be earning the attention of more marketing decision-makers and their teams of specialists.
For many organizations, the marketing tactics that are affected represent significant portions of their online sales or influencer arsenal. For example, for many retailers, the proportion of revenue influenced by remarketing often exceeds 50 percent. The cookie apocalypse should therefore take first place in the list of concerns of marketing executives and their specialized teams.
So why isn’t this event creating more waves in the industry?
Perhaps because unlike the brutal image we usually have of an apocalypse, this one isn’t going to happen within the space of a few seconds, like in the movies.
Instead, the cookie apocalypse is more like a kind of progressive, though still fast-moving erosion of your ability to target, segment, test and measure.
Every day, every week, every month will bring new restrictions added on top of the old ones, increasingly affecting the work of marketers. One day, a Google browser will reduce the lifespan of third-party cookies. The next day, a network of sites will exclude banners using remarketing cookies. The following week, a mobile platform will prevent the collection and exploitation of IDFA (identifier for advertisers), which enables the identification of mobile users for digital marketing and measurement.
The lack of a clear boundary between before and after the cookie apocalypse gives the impression that there is no emergency. But like a kind of slow water torture, this drop-by-drop approach can only end in breaking marketers, despite their best intentions. The short-term perspective of looking at profit and revenue on a quarterly basis hides the long-term game being played. For example, when Safari prevents the collection of IDFA on mobile, this will only slightly influence results; but when Google blocks all third-party cookies from Criteo, the effect will be more significant. It’s a gradual, insidious phenomenon in which it’s easy to forget that what lies behind the erosion of campaign performance as seen in analytical tools is in fact the cookie apocalypse.
But the emergency is actually quite real, and marketers must start to adapt if they want to successfully confront the profound changes currently affecting the industry.
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The big networks and data brokers (walled gardens) such as Google, Facebook and Verizon will continue to protect their main asset, their users’ data, which they monetize hundreds of times a day.
Hidden by the cookie apocalypse and in the guise of also wanting to protect their users’ data, they will be able to take advantage of this trend to increase the opacity and non-comparability of their measurement tools. They will also be able to weaken some of their competitors who rely on third-party cookies, such as Criteo.
Like Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit, every platform, publisher, browser and network will wait as long as possible before making their move. Every play has an impact on every other move. That’s why the next few months will be crucial. Advertisers will need to develop their own strategies to play their cards right, evaluating the effects of the moves that have been made and strengthening their actions to reduce their dependency on the third-party data sold by big networks.
Since the erosion of your campaign performance, revenue and influence is gradual, your strategies for dealing with it should be too. In other words, you need to start today to prepare for tomorrow. Small changes can be made progressively and regularly to protect your organization from the eventual problems that will arise from an overdependence on cookies.
Like the fable of the grasshopper and the ant, those who work hard to accumulate supplies in preparation for future challenges will be the best equipped to deal with this new era in marketing.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the cookie apocalypse will have a major effect on your digital marketing efforts. For this reason, Adviso has set up a committee of experts whose mission is to provide you with information on the subject as well as, obviously, concrete solutions to face these challenges effectively.