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Google Cookieless Advertising
Apr 29, 2024

How Google’s delay on cookieless will impact advertisers

Chris Yu
Author Chris Yu

Tech giant Google has announced that it is once again delaying its planned phase-out of third-party cookies. 

The looming cookieless future is not right around the corner after all. 

In a (maybe not so) surprising turn of events, Google issued a company statement on April 23rd stating that it is halting its plan for the phase-out of third-party cookies on its Chrome browser. Three days before it releases its Q1 2024 report, Google provided an update regarding the timeline for phasing out third-party cookies in Chrome: 

“We recognize that there are ongoing challenges related to reconciling divergent feedback from the industry, regulators, and developers, and will continue to engage closely with the entire ecosystem. It’s also critical that the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) has sufficient time to review all evidence including results from industry tests, which the CMA has asked market participants to provide by the end of June. Given both of these significant considerations, we will not complete third-party cookie deprecation during the second half of Q4.”

The challenges and rigorous processes regarding the testing of programmatic ad markets without cookies have led to Google pushing back on its cookie deprecation plan. They also cited the need to provide the ad industry with additional preparation time amid a landscape fraught with uncertainty. 

In addition, the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority, the UK’s antitrust regulator), is closely monitoring Google’s proposed transition. CMA flagged 39 unique “concerns” back in January 2024, including concerns of Google potentially hindering competition and how the Google Privacy Sandbox may unduly preference Google’s own advertising products and further capture more share of the AdTech market. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office has also voiced reservations regarding Google’s cookie transition plan.

As a result, Google has decided to further delay its cookieless transition. 

Not the first delay for cookieless

Let’s rewind, as the writing has been on the wall for third-party cookies for quite some time. With growing concerns over user privacy, data protection regulations like GDPR and CCPA, and the rise of consumer awareness about online tracking, the cookie’s days were numbered.

The conversation surrounding the death of third-party cookies has been a long and ongoing one. Ever since Google’s announcement back in 2020 of its planned cookie phase-out by 2022, marketers have been on edge. 

Brands have been scrambling – pivoting towards more cookieless advertising practices as other tech companies like Apple and Mozilla hopped on the cookieless train with more privacy-compliant and anti-cookie changes of their own. 

For Google, however, its planned death of cookies has been experiencing hurdles and delays. In fact, this isn’t the first time Google has had to delay its phase-out. 

After its initial announcement in 2020, the planned phase-out was set for 2022. Later in June of 2021, Google had to postpone the plan because of considerable industry pushback and debates on what would appropriately replace cookies, with the new phase-out set for 2023.

However, that wasn’t the case either as a second delay was announced (due to overwhelming feedback from developers and marketers regarding Google’s initial design plans) in July of 2022 with the deprecation set for the second half of 2024. After two delays, Google finally resumed its deprecation of third-party cookies in the beginning of 2024. 

Potential impact on advertising

These multiple delays reflect how the digital world is responding to these proposed changes. Google is taking its time with its plan, largely because of the consumer and industry response. 

Yet, it’s also indicative of how the industry is complacent and apathetic towards the cookieless future. With tech giants building empires on the back of dubious data collection, there is a seemingly insurmountable dependency. 

Instead of working on solutions that respect user privacy (while still enabling effective marketing), the advertising industry dragged its feet, offering half-baked alternatives or vague promises of future developments. As a result, marketers are reluctant to hop on the cookieless train, all because everyone is evidently “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk”.

This mindset would likely drive marketers into panic mode when the inevitable happens. They’re scrambling to find alternatives, to salvage their targeting capabilities, and to convince skeptical consumers that they can be trusted with their data.

It’s an understatement to say that Google’s delays are no longer a surprise at this point. This proposal for a cookieless future has been going on for years, and it would shock no one if there are further delays from here on out. 

At the same time, ad tech companies, publishers, and agencies are criticizing Google’s Privacy Sandbox, citing difficulties using the platform and inadequacies in replacing the cookies’ multiple functions. 

Google is taking this feedback along with all the regulatory pushback seriously. Hence, the decision to delay for a third time. On one hand, it is commendable that they’re taking on what seems to be a “slowly but surely” approach. But this approach comes with a cost.

Cookieless marketing may prove itself a long, winding road for many. 75% of marketers still rely heavily on third-party cookies for targeting and measurement. These delays will likely lead marketers to further push back their own cookieless plans. Until they’re forced to pivot (when Google indeed shifts Chome to a 100% cookieless model), there’s potential for little to no change for cookieless solutions. 

This recent announcement is once again, a lifeline for those who haven’t made the transition yet to go cookieless. This shouldn’t be taken for granted – the period from today until early 2025 is not a heck of a lot of time. 

The 1% cookie deprecation from early 2024 has illustrated a glimpse of what’s to come as it resulted in some form of chaos.  This “chaos” being: the scrambling (the rush and panic to pivot towards cookieless solutions), the exasperation and skepticism towards the proposed half-baked changes, and the reluctance to adhere to change due to the uncertain future (as mentioned earlier).  In fact, an early 2024 survey by Forrester showed that about 51% of global marketers did not believe Google would deprecate third-party cookies (they are correct… for now).  

Had Google pushed through with its 2024 timeline, the drastic shift towards an entirely cookieless landscape (where all advertisers are on edge over the holidays with cookies disappearing from most Chrome impressions late in the year) would result in full-on chaos and panic. That “chaos” is now expected to ensue at the beginning of 2025.

On the other hand, there is potential for advertisers to take advantage of the borrowed time and pivot towards a sustainable, cookieless future. 50% of the web is already cookieless – with Safari, Mozilla, Microsoft Edge, CTV, and mobile in-apps steadily transitioning to this new normal. 

For those looking for a more proactive approach to the cookieless future, there are options:  from contextual targeting, identity graphs, and browser APIs to cookieless mobile solutions such as cohorts and device fingerprinting. We expect to see more cookieless solutions down the line (and hopefully, none as delayed as Google’s).

Final thoughts

As warned, the talks surrounding the cookieless future is not a niche problem; it’s potentially an industry-wide crisis.

The exasperation stems from the fact that marketers had plenty of time to adapt. They could have invested in alternative tracking methods, explored first-party data strategies, or focused on building stronger relationships with their audiences. 

But the data shows what was done instead. They doubled down on the same old tactics, hoping against hope that the cookie apocalypse would never arrive or someone else would solve their problems in the little time they had left before real decisions needed making.

Amidst all this chaos and delay, one thing is for sure: third-party cookies will go away and there will be a cookieless future – and marketers have been given one last life line. The question is: will you be part of the cookieless revolution or will you be swept behind and be part of the chaos before it’s too late?

 

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