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Google Third-party Cookies Media Planning and Buying

Google to disable third party cookies for 1% of its userbase: how marketers are preparing

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By Chris Sutcliffe, Senior reporter

May 25, 2023 | 6 min read

After years of the can being kicked down the road, Google will disable third-party cookies for 1% of its users as part of a test next year. How are marketers preparing for the move?

Digital cookies illustration with small people

Third party cookies are planned to be phased out entirely by the end of 2024 / Adobe Stock

The transition away from third-party cookies has been mooted for many years. The process – led in large part by Google – is finally being put into practice, with Google’s Privacy Sandbox aiming to take a more privacy-conscious approach.

Now, the company has announced it will be disabling third-party cookies for 1% of its users to test the efficacy of its new solution. The change will come into place in the first quarter of 2024. Its plan to entirely deprecate the cookies at the back end of that year is still in place; this early switch-off is part of the journey towards that, though the company reportedly aims to go straight from that 1% to 100% when the time comes.

For marketers, many of whom are still waiting to see exactly what a third-party cookieless world looks like, this is a time of uncertainty. As of the launch of Chrome 115, many adtech developers will be able to start testing their compensatory solutions.

Phil Duffield is UK VP at The Trade Desk. He states that the situation has been thoroughly prepared for: “The deprecation of 1% of cookies won’t be as dramatic as people may think as marketers have been preparing for this moment. Marketers are already upscaling their reliance on contextual, independent and first-party data to reduce their reliance on cookies and are actively looking for alternatives and different opt-in IDs that significantly upgrade the user experience.

“This impact will be scaled down by the growing popularity of connected TV, audio and mobile gaming. As these channels garner more consumer attention than ever before, advertisers are well poised to make the most of new identity solutions as more consented data becomes available through these channels, regardless of when the cookie finally goes away.”

Additionally, those identity solutions are rapidly gaining traction as a return on advertising spend (RoAS) becomes a greater focus for marketers. The Trade Desk reported an increase in CPM by 116% for ads served using UID2 over the existing third-party cookie solution.

However, due to the number of times the transition to a cookieless future has been delayed, some marketers are reticent to commit to Google’s stated timeline. Oliver Whitten, COO at Adform, said: “This isn’t the first time we’ve heard timelines from Google. They’ve had the ad market running from pillar to post with little understanding of the outcome – so it’s no wonder that not everyone is prepared. There is still a lack of clarity around aspects of the sandbox and advertisers shouldn’t wait on a ‘maybe’.” He argues that advertisers should instead look to alternatives offered by Firefox and other browser companies.

Meanwhile, CEO of Adludio Paul Coggins suggests that advertisers are still dancing to Google’s tune – which only benefits the search giant: “Google continues to prevaricate on the demise of cookies. It’s exhausting and symptomatic of Google’s bigger fears around how it protects its ad revenue streams.”

Fail to plan, plan to fail

While the privacy changes are being driven by regulatory bodies like the EU, as one of the major players in digital advertising Google is responsible for many of the practices and mores that have come to define the practice of buying and selling ads. Its stated aim with Privacy Sandbox is to ‘create new standards’ – and some marketers believe this is an attempt by Google to control the cookieless advertising ecosystem to the extent it has previously.

Lukasz Wlodarczyk is VP of programmatic ecosystem growth and innovation at RTB House. He says: “Many active participants in the Protected Audiences API have had trouble understanding the solutions on offer so far.

“We need to test in a completely cookieless world to truly understand how to prepare, which we’ve been unable to replicate on Chrome to date. While 1% might seem low, it is a good enough sample to give us a clear understanding of what cookie deprecation will look like. It also provides an opportunity to give feedback to Google on the success of the solution, to effectively prepare for the full-scale removal.”

So while the moment has been prepared for in theory, the move by Google to disable third-party cookies for a single percentage point of users allows advertisers to put it into practice.

Google Third-party Cookies Media Planning and Buying

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