What Happens Post-Cookie?

By Danielle Gale, Director of Strategy at AUDIENCEX

Since Google announced the phase-out of the third-party tracking cookie last year, the digital ad industry has been scrambling to prepare for a change in how business is done. An entire ecosystem was built on the foundation of the tracking cookie, and without it, publishers, advertisers and consumers are going to need to adapt to a new environment. What will the change mean for marketers? A few things:

First-Party Data: Here’s the good news: you can still use first-party cookies. First-party data deployed server-side can be activated through platforms on the DSP. You’ll also still be able to use your DMP data because it starts with first-party data. Now is a great time to think about your analytics stack, and make sure you have a plan in place for first-party cookies.

People-Based IDs: Today we also have people-based IDs, which will be with us after the cookie. Some examples are email addresses, loyalty IDs or credit card numbers. This data can be uploaded and hashed for data matching

New IDs in Development: Across the AdTech industry, many different companies are working to create new development IDs. When cookies go away, there will be new innovations to come.

This could mean, for example, a browser ID where everyone who wants to access the Internet will have to log in.

What is Google Doing Instead of Third-Party Cookies?

Since Google is at the head of this deprecation of third-party cookies, what are they going to do instead? As of today, they’ve announced that they’ll be sharing a “privacy sandbox” – a protected test environment.

Going forward, Google will still allow ad targeting measurement and fraud prevention to happen in this privacy sandbox, where the cookies will be replaced with an API. Advertisers can access this API, which will enable use cases such as ad selection and conversion measurement without revealing any private information about individual users.

There isn’t currently a lot of information available about the privacy sandbox, but Google should be providing more details throughout the year.

Other Partner Solutions

ComScore: comScore has announced their predictive audiences, which is a cookie-free targeting capability that enables advertisers to reach audiences based on granular consumer behavior collected through privacy-friendly contextual signals.

LiveRamp: LiveRamp is actually partnering with authenticated publishers and matching that data back to their own LiveRamp Identity link – a deterministic graph that uses emails, postal addresses and phone numbers – which can be used to identify and match back to publishers’ data in real-time.

The Trade Desk: The Trade Desk is working on a unified 2.0 solution, which will be an open-source sign-on solution for the web. In this scenario, users will provide their email addresses for the purpose of identification and accessing a network of opted-in publishers.

What Should Marketers Do?

So, knowing all of this, what can we do today?

Audit Your Data: You need to understand how great this is going to impact your business  Look at your media setup to understand how many impressions are actually going to behavioral targeting in third-party cookies.

If the majority of your impressions are going towards behavioral targeting, this means that the loss of the third-party cookie will have a dramatic impact on your media plan. Now is the time to take a look at your current stack and really understand the level of implications for your paid media efforts.

First-Party Data Plan:  The next step is to have a plan in place to leverage and grow your first-party data. Look at your current data sets: How can you translate that into a DMP and match it to a DSP?

Use this year and your current campaigns to grow your first-party audience and first-party data. Run email marketing campaigns or sign-up campaigns to capture data around audience interests, demographics, email addresses and phone numbers.

Marketplace Partnerships: Without the use of behavioral targeting, you’re going to have to heavily rely on contextual targeting, which means you’re going to need to grow your direct publisher relationships.

Whether you prefer to build a formal direct publisher partnership or use a private marketplace (PMP), you want to strengthen your direct partnerships and explore PMPs that are the right fit for each campaign.

Understand Your Audience Contextually: Contextual targeting is coming back, and you should spend some time identifying the key categories for your audience. Then build inclusion and exclusion lists.

Run of Network campaigns was once safe when you layered on things like behavioral targeting, third-party audiences, frequency capping, and retargeting, but without those safeguards in place, you should only run campaigns where your audience already spends time. That will help cut down on waste and fraud.

Cookieless Signals: Leverage probabilistic data like location and device modeled or married with carrier data to build new targeting strategies. An older model Samsung represents a different audience than a cutting-edge iPhone, so make use of that data. Now is the time to find out who your customers are. Whatever information you can gather about your current customers that are not tied to cookies will help you further down the road.


In summary, the future is bright. Cookies were never a stable foundation. In fact, they represented devices, not people. Moving forward, there won’t be a single universal standard that is going to replace the cookie. Tracking conversions will become harder, but it’s also going to accelerate things like machine learning, especially for conversion tracking.

As marketers, we need to stay engaged and work with partners to help navigate through this evolving technology. We have one year left to test out some new theories, gather as much first-party data as possible, and try out new tactics. But at the end of the day, agility will be the key to success.

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