Google shook the digital ads industry when it announced that it would be removing “cookies” (the technology that enables them to track Web-browsing habits, serving consumer information to advertisers) from its Chrome Web browser. While the announcement was greeted as a big win by privacy advocates, it was understandably worrisome to advertisers, most of whom have come to depend on cookies to help target their ads. It didn’t help that Google’s initial guidelines on the matter were worded rather vaguely, leading to a real sense of panic among digital advertising professionals.
Those advertisers will undoubtedly be thrilled by Google’s latest announcement: The cookies phase-out has been delayed from early 2022 to late 2023, amounting to a delay of nearly two whole years.
Why the Delay?
Google’s announcement presents advertisers with something of a reprieve. At the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, however, many will wonder what’s prompted this change of plans.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, this delay is intended so that the company can “get publishers, advertisers, and regulators comfortable with the new technologies it is developing to enable targeted ads after cookies are phased out.” A Google representative, quoted in the article, says they have made “considerable progress” in this area, but still have much work to do.
An article from Street Fight takes a slightly different vantage point, noting that the search giant’s announcement “suggests Google is responding to widespread panic by publishers, advertisers, and ad tech companies about the difficulty of serving and measuring relevant ads on desktop without cookies.”
Indeed, Google has so much clout and so much influence that it’s difficult to remember how dependent they ultimately are on brands and agencies willing to spend their money on Google’s advertising platforms. Their decision to delay the cookies roll-out probably wasn’t born of pure altruism, but may have been a reaction to the acute frustration voiced by so many within the industry.
What About FLoCs?
The cookies delay also suggests that there has been skepticism toward FLoCs, the cohort-based tracking solutions that Google has floated as cookie replacements. Indeed, many companies have already voiced concerns about whether FLoCs will work at all; additionally, there are legitimate concerns over the extent to which FLoCs would stack the deck in Google’s favor, giving them access to consumer information while preventing their rivals from getting the same information.
There have already been regulatory concerns in Europe, and significant resistance from third parties who think FLoCs just won’t cut it. (And those third parties include some big names: Think Amazon, Mozilla, and WordPress.) In short, it looks like FLoCs would be dead on arrival, and that’s surely been a factor in Google’s decision to postpone their cookies phase-out.
The skepticism toward FLoCs underscores an even larger point: That in a post-cookie world, there’s probably not going to be any one tracking solution or piece of technology that solves the digital ad world’s data-gathering needs. Instead, most advertisers are likely going to require an entire toolbox full of data-gathering options, all of which allow them to effectively target their ads without compromising user privacy.
Advertisers can breathe a small sigh of relief, and rest easy in the knowledge that they will have more time to work out their own post-cookie solutions. But while this delay is certainly good news, and a big win for agencies everywhere, the writing on the wall is still there: Cookies have had their day in the sun and, with mounting privacy concerns, they’re going to get phased out sooner or later.
As we’ve noted in the past, this will be a blow to advertisers, but also for online consumers. After all, cookies play an essential role in creating personalized online experiences, and in enabling you to see ad content that’s relevant to your interests. Privacy is certainly important; it can and it should be a big concern within our industry. However, the loss of cookies will undoubtedly lead to impoverished online research and shopping experiences.
For advertisers, Google’s delay means there is more time to develop that toolbox of data-collecting measures. First-party data can certainly be useful, and in fact, can provide an even greater individualization than third-party cookies. The problem is that first-party data is much harder to collect, especially with many online users reluctant to disclose any personal information.
At enCOMPASS Agency, we have been monitoring this situation closely, keeping our clients up-to-date, and sharing details about how to move forward in a post-cookies world. We are pleased about Google’s delay, yet we remain vigilant: We’ll keep an eye on things, continue to report back, and keep our lines open if you have any questions or concerns. Reach out any time you’d like to chat about the future of online ads, cookies, or whatever else.
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