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Jan 24, 2024

The first cookie crumbles – the death of third-party cookies is upon us

Dayna Lang
Author Dayna Lang

Google announced on January 4, 2024, that after years of hurdles and regulation, it’s finally starting to phase out third-party cookies. But are marketers on the open web prepped and ready to go? 

This is a long time coming; marketers who’ve prepared ahead of time are ready and able to pivot – adjusting their strategies and targeting approaches to still reach their audience effectively. 

Some marketers and advertisers will be unaffected by the elimination of third-party cookies. But for those working and targeting on the open web, adjustments need to be made. And they need to be made quickly. 

On January 4, the Tracking Protection tool was made available to the first cohort of Chrome users, a long-anticipated move from the search giant towards eliminating third-party cookies from its platforms. This is only the first step: by the end of 2024 marketers should completely eliminate third-party cookies from their strategies. 

This process is the culmination of years of effort to advocate for user privacy, empowering consumers to consent to where and when their information is gathered and to whom that information is shared. That’s why the two core principles all marketers need to consider when building a post-cookie approach to targeting are consent and privacy

And since customer consent and privacy are at the core of these plans, they need to also be at the core of marketing strategies going forward. 

Google’s first step toward cookieless 

On January 4, 2024, a random 1 percent of global Chrome users received the new Tracking Protection web-browsing feature, receiving a notification on desktop Chrome or their Android devices. The feature restricts third-party cookies by default, limiting tracking capabilities for many marketers. 

Google has planned to eliminate third-party cookies for years, but the company continually pushed back deadlines due to advertiser opposition and regulatory issues in the UK. Now, it appears everything is on track and Google users can expect to say goodbye to third-party cookies by the second half of 2024. 

Google isn’t the only web browser with removal plans; Firefox already removed third-party cookies in 2023. However, what concerns many marketers is Google Chrome accounts for a massive 65% of browser usage. 

Although the company gave marketers ample warning – and pushed back its plans several times – the Wall Street Journal reports that many marketers still aren’t ready

For those marketers looking to brush up on cookieless marketing, our full guide is here to lend a helping hand. 

According to eMarketer, cookies were used to target 78% or more of programmatic ad buys as recently as Q3 2023, showing an increase in cookie use. Many advertisers were even seen to be increasing their cookie ad spend. This is despite Google and Firefox’s plans to eliminate third-party cookie use. 

Marketers still relying on third-party cookies to build their 2024 strategies are in for a difficult year. 

Google’s third-party cookie depreciation trial

Google knows that removing these cookies leaves a void in many marketers’ strategies. To help them along and address potential compatibility concerns, it’s also announced a  third-party cookie deprecation trial

The goal is to eliminate third-party use of cookies on Chrome by 2024’s third quarter, but this program would let eligible brands extend that deadline until December 27, 2024. 

Qualifying websites can enable third-party cookie deprecation trials by providing unique access tokens in Chrome using JavaScript. 

To meet the requirements for this program brands must meet the following criteria: 

  • Are not an advertising-related service
  • Are not associated with advertising services or domains. 
  • Can demonstrate a direct impact on end-users (this needs to be demonstrated in detail to Google) 

Google will only include sites with confirmed breakage as part of this program. There is also an appeals process for clarification or approval issues. 

Google’s Privacy Sandbox

With the removal of third-party cookies, many marketers are asking: what comes next? 

illumin’s Chief Strategy Officer Seraj Bharwani said in a recent article, “The emergence of large-scale data and identity resolution platforms with audience graphs across devices and households is a major step forward to helping reclaim control over reach and frequency. But there’s no single solution to the problem.”

Marketers need to critically think about what solutions will be most effective for their brands and they need to act fast. Google’s solution is its Privacy Sandbox. The goal is to make web browsing less intrusive for users by replacing cookies with contextual targeting

The Privacy Sandbox places users in groups according to similar interests and behaviors, without identifying them or overstepping privacy boundaries. The first stage of Google’s new targeting tool was rolled out in July of 2023. 

Contextual targeting like this is one of many ways that marketers can move forward in a cookieless world. 

With these targeting tools being brand new, marketers haven’t had much time to pivot. And while the market continues to speculate that Google will continue to delay its full cookieless launch, nothing is guaranteed. 

With the search engine’s January 4 launch, it seems Google means business this year. It is heavily speculated that third-party cookies will disappear from the digital world; marketers need to rapidly adjust their 2024 strategies to target and reach their audiences – the sooner the better.  

This is a new frontier for advertising on the open web. By embracing the change brands can make their mark and find a competitive foothold in a new era of digital advertising. 

 

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