What Eliminating Chrome Third-Party Cookies Means for Brands

an image of a google chrome web browser screen

The news that Google Chrome will be eliminating third-party cookies rocked the marketing and advertising world. Because so many campaigns utilize third-party cookies, and so many people use Google Chrome as their default browser, this announcement had marketers everywhere wondering, “What are we going to do now?”

We chatted with Michael Riley, Regional Vice President and Head of Industry, Automotive for Nativo. Nativo’s mission is to equip advertising for the age of content, improving the web experience and creating meaningful connections for today’s digital consumer. They work between advertisers and publishers to build a conversation and create relevant content.

The work that both Nativo and Blue Wheel do in the advertising space is being directly affected by the elimination of third-party cookies. Here’s our take on what’s happening in the industry, and what it means for brands and agencies alike!

Wait, remind me what third-party cookies are?

Third-party cookies are used to serve relevant ads to users. They’re invisibly placed on a site, so any time that cookie is loaded, it tracks the user. For years, third-party cookies have been the basis of ad retargeting and programmatic advertising.

For example, let’s say I visit a website about sustainable living. Next, I look at a site that sells custom engagement rings. Then I look up the definition of fair trade on Merriam Webster. My website history is beginning to build a profile about me. Based on my perceived interests from my browsing history, it’s a good guess that I’d be interested in engagement rings that are made with sustainable diamonds and fair-trade gold—so a sustainable jewelry site might serve an ad to me.

Then I visit that site and browse around a little bit, but I don’t buy anything. A few days later, I get an ad on Facebook for that same site, advertising a carousel of products I viewed.

Both of these examples used third-party cookies to track me and build a profile that describes me, and then serve me relevant behavioral and retargeting ads.

So what’s happening with Google Chrome cookies?

In January 2020, Google Chrome announced that they were going to be phasing out third-party cookies over the next two years.

Safari and Firefox have already disabled many types of third-party cookies, but Google Chrome is taking two years to fully implement the change, citing that they want to give plenty of time for sites to adjust their cookies and migrate to a new tactic. The delay will hopefully prevent thousands of sites from breaking.

Why is this happening?

Cookies originally started out with a more simple purpose, but over the years, they began to be repurposed outside of their original intention. This innovation wasn’t inherently bad, but soon everyone was relying on cookies in a way that was becoming bigger than intended. So the elimination of third-party cookies is really the Internet’s way of bringing things back to basics and attempting to get things under control.

With the recent increased focus on privacy, we see brands scrambling to increase security across the board, so it doesn’t come as a shock that Google Chrome is getting rid of third-party cookies. While third-party cookies are typically not seen as being as invasive as other forms of privacy infringements, companies are looking for ways to minimize any kind of risk.

But the removal of third-party cookies doesn’t come as a surprise—iPhones haven’t had them for a couple years. “You never hear people saying, ‘What are we doing about Apple devices?’ People have just been turning a blind eye to it,” says Michael. “But there will be a lot more affected soon, because Chrome is so big and a lot more companies are being threatened in a massive way.”

But, this move also benefits Google and can be viewed as a power play by the brand. “Google has a good ‘in’ to say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this for security reasons,’ but there’s also an exterior business reason, because this shift helps them,” Michael theorizes. “One-to-one matching and login-based data are not going anywhere. What’s the number one thing people log in to? Google.

Google isn’t reliant on third-party cookies, because so many people have a Google account that logs them into Gmail, Youtube, and more. Some of Google’s competitors are reliant on cookies, whereas Google isn’t. Some people view this as a power move on Google’s part to further their already-contested monopoly on the industry. (Google was under investigation in late 2019 for monopolizing the space.)

What effect is this having on the marketplace?

Cookies have played a large part in how brands market their products across multiple platforms. Now, brands will need to shift their tactics.

“Cookies have been the background subject of advertising for so long. They really got out of control,” Michael says. “This is a reset back to what marketing was in the first place—having a conversation and building out trust in the audience and talking to them in relevant areas.”

We’ve seen this reset coming for years, with the emergence of inbound marketing and engaged social media communities—the elimination of cookies just solidifies this refocus. The focus of marketing has slowly shifted from only relying on paid advertising to building a community that loves what you have to offer.

Michael notes that this can be a positive for small businesses: “At this point, it’s leveling the playing field. If you’re a smaller marketer, you have more of a chance than ever to compete. Larger marketers have had very intense ecosystems with access to data, and that gave them a huge advantage. Now local advertisers can be good at speaking to audiences, so they’re on the same playing field.”

What should agencies and brands do now?

It’s time to double down on your organic marketing efforts—whether that means building up your email list, increasing your SEO content, or creating a community on social media. “If you can create content and you’re good at it, you’ll win,” Michael advises.

Another important aspect of eliminating third-party cookies will be having users create a log-in or account so you can directly market to them, instead of relying on third-party cookies. “If you can have a reason to create log-ins, it’ll give you an advantage in the long run.”

Michael also noted that not every consumer will create a login for everything—for example, you probably won’t create an account for a random local store you’ll shop at once, but you might for a nationwide chain. You’ll need to evaluate whether it would be a good experience for your customer.

If a log-in isn’t feasible or applicable for your brand, you’ll need to build an engaged email or social audience. These are both certainly principles of solid marketing, but it will become even more important to organically build these audiences as third-party cookies are eliminated.

What if I need more help?

This is a complex issue that will affect many sites, even if you don’t realize it. And, if you dabble in any kind of paid advertising, you’ll definitely need to alter your strategy.

The expert team at Blue Wheel can help—reach out today to see if we’d be a good fit to work together!

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