Google's 2022 cookie apocalypse: Why it will hit first party data, hyper-targeting and a solution from Westpac's former digital media and tech boss
From 2022, Google's ban on the use of third party cookies will render up to 85% of current digital marketing useless, says Westpac's former digital and media technology director Nick Barnett. That's when Google Chrome joins Apple and others in voiding the digital marketing industry's most widespread currency. It's going to break things as new pressure builds on first party data, retargeting, behavioural targeting, hypertargeting...and usher the return of research panels and contextual content environments. This podcast covers everything you need to know, now.
Listen to the epic "Google 2022" podcast here:
You need to know this:
- From 2022, third party cookies will no longer be allowed in Google's Chrome browser
- Tracking cookies are already blocked in Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox
- That takes out about 85 per cent of the cookie-based ecosystem: Anything seen as third party - measurement, analytics, retargeting, site optimisation and a lot more is gone
- Google and Apple are also clamping down on fingerprinting and other means of bypassing anti-tracking measures, which also impacts first party cookies
- Experts believe the changes drive a major shift away from collecting cookies to collecting actual authenticated identification
- Brands, publishers and the supply chain need to incentivise user sign-ins
- Many will need to shift the entire way they operate
- Hyper-targeting looks dead in the water
“If you are the best at understanding how behavioural targeting works, that’s not going to be very useful come 2022. Any teams at publisher, advertiser or agency, their objectives and their cross disciplines will be hugely impacted by all of this.”
Not now Cookie Apocalypse
The world has some pretty significant challenges on its plate right now. Dealing with something 18 months away might not seem so urgent.
But in 2022, Google will ban third party cookies from its Chrome browser, used by most people on the planet.
That will render up to 85 per cent marketing and digital investment useless, and do away with much of the media-advertising-martech ecosystem in one fell swoop.
If brands, agencies, publishers and the tech supply chain want to survive the impending Cookie Apocalypse, they need a plan. Fast.
Marketers: Copy this letter
Nick Barnett, Westpac’s former director of digital & media technology turned independent advisor, suggests marketers copy and paste the following and send it to their CMO or head of department:
‘As you are aware, we spend approximately $x million on digital marketing per year. We have evidence to suggest up to 85% of this will be rendered useless as of 2022 due to industry changes. This will result in us losing customers to better prepared competitors due to our marketing being inefficient and customer experiences breaking.
The good news is I have some potential solutions we can explore. Please can I have your endorsement.’
With marketing budgets most likely under extreme pressure post Covid-19, Barnett suggests digital marketers seek funding to explore those solutions from corporate governance and privacy budgets - given Google’s cookie cull is largely a bid to comply with tightening privacy regulation.
Everyone: prepare for change
In the meantime, Barnett and fellow podcast panelists strongly advise readers to get up to speed with Chrome 2022 and the incoming changes that will soon profoundly influence strategy, technology and investment.
The death of cookies will also have a human impact. Digital marketers and technologists involved with targeting should take particular note, if they want to remain employed.
“If you are the best at understanding how behavioural targeting works, that’s not going to be very useful come 2022,” suggests, former eMitch exec and SynergyStack founder Chris Brinkworth.
“Any teams at publisher, advertiser or agency, their objectives and their cross disciplines will be hugely impacted by all of this.”
“Anything coming in from Facebook, anything from my retargeting company, anything from my analytics company is seen as third party. Any technology that you have invested in for your marketing stack can also be severely impacted.”
How the cookie crumbled
In late 2017, Apple’s Safari browser rolled out intelligent tracking prevention, known as ITP. It aimed to crack down on tracking by only allowing cookies for sites that people regularly use – keeping those cookies for 24 hours - while corralling and deleting third party and tracking cookies.
In mid 2018, Safari rolled out a new version, ITP 2, which cut the 24 hour window for cookies and instead made websites request tracking privileges – to which users must explicitly consent. That opt-in retains the cookie unless the user fails to visit the site for 30 days.
Since then, there have been numerous tweaks and changes, as Apple attempts to stop advertisers and tech providers bypassing ITP restrictions, though that hasn’t stopped people trying.
Safari’s original changes caused some ripples in the ad industry. But across all browser types - desktop, mobile and tablet - Safari has at most a 20 per cent share. Chrome has upwards of 60 per cent. Now the ripples are becoming waves that will sink some parts of the supply chain, because blocking third party cookies means a lot of ad tech – and the broader marketing stack - will no longer work.
“Anything coming in from Facebook, anything from my retargeting company, anything from my analytics company is seen as third party,” says Brinkworth.
“Any technology that you have invested in for your marketing stack can also be severely impacted. For example, if you are an advertiser, a DMP may not actually be what you need any more. Because DMPs are heavily reliant on third party cookies,” he suggests.
“This impacts so many elements of the supply chain. Analytics, chatbots, surveys will be impacted. Any way to optimise your website to get better conversion rates will be impacted. So this is a multibillion dollar issue globally and the key for everybody is to find a solution.”
Problem is, nobody has.
“People who have hung their hat on hyper-targeting are going to have to change their business models.”
Prepare to pivot
“People who have hung their hat on hyper-targeting are going to have to change their business models,” suggests Nick Barnett.
He thinks that’s a good thing. Balance will return to marketing and shonky tactics such as ‘cookie bombing’, also known as attribution scamming, where buyers flood the target market with impressions, tag and track users and claim the credit for those that would have converted anyway – will be killed off.
“Those kind of practises won’t wash anymore. So it will hold us to a higher standard as marketers.”
Barnett thinks as “hyper-targeting goes out of the window”, brands will return to a “better balanced view about marketing activities that’s more about the quality of the brand interactions”.
Post Royal Commission, banks are already moving in that direction, says Barnett, resetting their communications to genuinely serve customer needs.
“So moving from ‘how do we flog more credit cards,’ to ‘how do we have a conversation over time for a first home buyer, to educate them as they go and become their trusted source of information?’” explains Barnett.
“For me, that is a movement towards more contextual, content-based marketing.”
Or in other words, “doing what we are supposed to do, and not getting caught up in these ‘silver bullet’ marketing technologies, where I would argue there is not concrete evidence that it actually delivers what it says it delivers.”
A post cookie world, suggests Barnett, “gets back to building a brand, trust and reputation – and moving customers through a well thought out, intelligent process.”
But he stresses it is not the death of data-driven marketing, just the death of lazy tactics reliant on a murky ecosystem.
“You can still leverage a lot of the tech and the smarts – you can still use your first party data,” says Barnett. “It is just the way you are executing marketing campaigns and what you are focusing on is going to be drastically different.”
“There has been a lot of investment into activation of first party data, big investments into data management platforms (DMPs), people wiring up their CRM systems, allowing retargeting of their own users from an advertising perspective. That is something that is directly impacted here.”