Advertisers breathe a sigh of relief as third-party cookies ‘live to see another day’

Google has once again delayed the abolition of third-party tracking cookies, marking the third postponement. While this grants marketers more time to strategise for the post-cookie era, they must seize the opportunity to maximise their preparations during this extended timeframe

Akansha Srivastava
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Delhi: According to the recent survey from the Interactive Advertising Bureau's 2024 State of Data report, over half of advertisers expected Google to postpone the discontinuation of third-party cookies once more, citing their lack of preparedness.

Cut to Wednesday, April 24, Google announced yet another delay in the abolition of third-party tracking cookies. This marked the third instance of Google delaying the original deadline for phasing out third-party cookies, initially set for January 2020. 

Raman RS Minhas, Chief Creative Officer, IdeateLabs, believes that with a delay for the third time, Google seems to be struggling to find the final solutions to advertisers, authorities, and regulators' concerns regarding the cookie phase-out. 

He said, “It boils down to trust—trust that an even level-playing field has been created. Google is not sure if the ecosystem is ready (intentionally or not). And the industry, particularly the watchdogs, is wary of the monopolistic scenario it might create for Google. With more clarity and dialogue, the trust deficit can be addressed.”

The most recent postponement follows the UK Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA) expression of 39 "concerns" regarding Google’s move to deprecate cookies. A primary concern was the potential impact of Google's cookie replacement, known as Privacy Sandbox, on its competitors. 

Adding to the scrutiny, the UK privacy regulator, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), voiced its own apprehensions earlier this month. The ICO emphasised that Google's proposed cookie replacements must provide stronger safeguards for consumer privacy. Furthermore, it highlighted that the Privacy Sandbox contains vulnerabilities that could compromise privacy and expose anonymous users.

Each delay has provided advertisers with additional time to adjust their strategies for targeting and personalising communications without third-party cookies. Now, with the third delay, advertisers can breathe a sigh of relief, as they have more time to prepare for the cookie deprecation. 

Vineet Malhotra, Chief Technology Officer, Hashtag Orange, believes that the delay in the demise of third-party cookies may come as a relief for advertisers who are struggling to devise new targeting and personalisation strategies. “With the looming shift in the digital advertising landscape, this extension provides them with valuable time to strategically assess and prepare for the challenges ahead,” he said.

Even Vinay Tamboli, Senior VP, Digital Analytics and Consulting Business, LS Digital, told that many brands, especially in India, are still not ready to handle third-party cookie deprecation. “With this delay, they got a breather. They now have additional time to think and plan better to manage the situation,” he commented.

Challenges associated with the demolition of Google’s third-party cookies 

The phasing out of third-party cookies necessitates a heavy reliance on first-party data. Targeting users based on their browsing habits will no longer be an option; consequently, we will see a significant focus on contextual targeting. 

According to Malhotra of Hashtag Orange, with the diminished level of personalisation that can be achieved in ads without those third-party cookies, advertisers will face difficulty connecting effectively with their target audiences. He explained, “They’ll need to find alternate ways to achieve the same ROI, which requires a lot of planning and analysis. Moreover, advertisers will need to deal with compliance and regulatory issues that come with this shift.”  

Having said that, he highlighted that for platforms such as Facebook and Amazon with substantial reservoirs of user data, the loss of third-party cookies may not have a significant impact; in fact, they are likely to benefit from it as advertisers may turn to these platforms to meet their targeted advertising needs. The delay gives such advertisers some much-needed respite, enabling them to be better prepared for the future.  

The industry needs to face the truth

While Google's decision to postpone the phase-out of third-party cookies until early 2025 offers temporary relief to advertisers, Mitesh Kothari, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at White Rivers Media, said that it's just delaying the inevitable changes the industry needs to face. “Marketers should stay ahead by engaging with emerging technologies and developing robust first-party data strategies. This delay presents an opportunity for innovation and growth, allowing for precise and effective marketing in a post-cookie world,” he commented.

Even Saad Merchant, Co-Founder of Verve Media, pointed out that while they can still rely on third-party cookies for now, it's wise to start experimenting with alternative campaign approaches that aren't dependent on them. 

How marketers can prepare themselves for the world without third-party cookies

"Despite the delay, the shift away from third-party cookies remains imminent, so advertisers must continue exploring alternative methods such as first-party data collection through strong Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Targeting ads based on webpage content is going to become a primary method for reaching potential customers, especially as user tracking diminishes. Additionally, advertisers should test out new targeting methods and tools to find the best fit for their campaigns,” suggested Merchant.

Tamboli of LS Digital suggested making publisher partnerships. He said, “Consumers go to the best content publisher. Identify key publishers and partner with them to secure the quality inventory.”

He also suggested that advertisers should experiment more and more with Google Sandbox and leverage AI/ML for sophisticated measurement and optimisation.

“There might be a little ambiguity, but brands need to stay focused on their long-term plan to manage the business without third-party cookies because that’s inevitable,” he added.

Merchant concluded, “While it presents challenges in the short term, it ultimately fosters a more privacy-conscious digital advertising landscape, which benefits both consumers and advertisers in the long run.”