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What stops working when the third-party cookie is gone – and what comes next?

  • 5 min read

The cookie has long been the bedrock of the online advertising ecosystem, but with Google pulling the plug on third-party cookies, that’s all about to change. Google’s announcement may have initially sparked concerns for marketers and publishers across the open web, but in providing a two-year runway until third-party cookies are officially banished from Chrome, the industry at least has a timeline to put alternative – and much improved – people-based marketing solutions in place.

At time of publication, six months have already ticked by, emphasizing the need for marketers, publishers and technology platforms to accelerate implementation of viable and commercially-ready solutions.

An imperfect identifier

Though serving as the legacy foundation of the modern digital ecosystem by allowing brands to buy publisher inventory, the cookie was never designed for this purpose. It is an imperfect identifier for many reasons, not least because it is not correlated to real people but rather devices. Further, its use is not transparent to consumers and, as acknowledged above, is rapidly disappearing.

Individuals need better privacy, more choice and enhanced control over their data, which regulators are beginning to recognise – as evidenced by legislation such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Pulling the plug on cookies changes the rules of engagement

The demise of the cookie is a huge opportunity to move to a trusted, people-based advertising ecosystem in order to deliver better brand and media experiences for individuals. Publishers have a golden opportunity to climb the value chain by establishing more direct and meaningful relationships with their readers, and connecting those consumers with brands and advertisers in a privacy-focused manner. 

Yet, transitioning to a post-cookie world will not be easy. The removal of cookies from the ecosystem has implications for first- and third-party data targeting; cross-site retargeting; attribution; measurement; and more. 

Here’s a quick look and how each of these tactics are used by marketers:

First-party data targeting

Brands use their own first-party data to target highly-valuable customers with new offers, suppress existing customers from acquisition campaigns and/or measure return on advertising spend (ROAS) from digital campaigns. It’s the most valuable type of data because it’s consented and collected directly from consumers.

Third-party data targeting

The entire programmatic supply chain has come to rely on third-party data sets to help add scale to a brand’s first-party data, target high-value audiences, run acquisition campaigns and more. This data is made available within data management platforms and demand-side platforms. It is also overlaid on top of publisher inventory in order to improve targeting abilities.

Cross-site retargeting

Cross-site retargeting is bread-and-butter functionality that enables advertisers to understand a user’s behaviour on one site and serve a related ad on another. This was often annoying for users if continually served the same iteration of an ad, but executed correctly – with frequency capping in place – this technology is incredibly effective.

Attribution and measurement

Attribution and measurement capabilities are critical for brands to have confidence in knowing where and how much to spend. Advertisers need to know that publishers can not only offer them the identifiable, attributable audience that they are seeking, but also that they can do this at scale across multiple channels.

The customer deserves better in the new digital ecosystem

In a world without third-party cookies, marketers lose the ability to perform these basic tactics because cookies currently serve as the connector between platforms and technologies.

Rather than recreating the role of the cookie, what the industry needs is an ecosystem – rebuilt from the ground up – that places consumer trust and transparency at the center. Here’s what we think matters:

Establishing a people-based ecosystem

This is the beginning of a new era of engagement for individuals, publishers and marketers. It will require a people-based identity foundation to give advertisers the ability to accurately identify individual customers in a privacy-centric way, regardless of what device or channel they’re using. 

Once marketers can identify the audience, they can deliver relevant messaging or exclude it from a campaign altogether. Either way, people get the experience that matters to them, and marketing efforts become more effective.

By connecting siloed data on a one-to-one, consumer-based level, marketers can visualise omnichannel paths to purchase, accurately measure return on investment and optimise either in real-time or for future campaigns.

By resolving first-, second- and third-party data to a deterministic, persistent identifier, advertisers can create targeted, people-based campaigns and activate them via major DSPs, email platforms, social networks and numerous other vendors for omnichannel targeting, measurement and analytics.

We’re in this together

A trusted ecosystem with a people-based approach is actually a better way, and it’s why we’re seeing the industry pull together to create a fairer, more effective digital ecosystem for all. The advertiser gets more business-focused outcomes, publishers a fairer share of the digital pie and, crucially, end users an engaging advertising that adds to, rather than detracts from, their digital experience. 

A people-based marketing solution – ready now

Over the past four years, LiveRamp has partnered with a number of technology platforms and publishers to help create an infrastructure that provides an end-to-end addressability solution for a new, safer internet. These include:

  • The Authenticated Traffic Solution (ATS), which enables people-based advertising and addressability on authenticated, cookieless inventory
  • Privacy tools that help publishers and brands offer individuals a way to manage their data with transparency and choice
  • An infrastructure to transact programmatically on RampID, which enables marketers to deliver a better one-to-one customer experience and accurately measure the effectiveness of investments without relying on third-party cookies

A better internet for all

At LiveRamp, we are already seeing publishers reinventing their engagement models to offer value to both readers and advertisers. Publishers and marketers are seeing the benefits of having RampID embedded in their inventory; the initial publishers using ATS are live – enabling for the first time, the ability to engage people-based audiences on the open net – and monetising without depending on cookies. Lastly, marketers can engage their audiences with content that is relevant and valuable, while accessing scalable alternatives beyond the walled gardens. All of this is facilitated through our Authenticated Traffic Solution and the rebuilding of a trusted ecosystem that benefits all parties involved – one that is ultimately rooted in trust and transparency.

To get started, contact us at [email protected].