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The End of Third-Party Cookies is Coming Soon

The end is coming! Looming behind sweeping regulatory actions, it’s promising to be a real digital advertising game-changer. To believe all the hype, the regulatory end to the use of third-party cookies has marketing professionals trying to fully understand the implications of the action to the future of identifying a brand’s customers and purchasing behaviors. In the world of digital technology, cookies are not those yummy desserts kept in a jar on the kitchen counter that we have all been warned would spoil our dinner. Third-party cookies are online user identifiers that track the identity of website visitors, reveal what users are browsing and collect data about the user in order to target ads to the right audience, with the optimal message and at the best possible time. Wow, pretty powerful for something with a docile-sounding name. So, why are they going away?

The third-party cookies and other data practices are facing extinction due to bad actor practices regarding the collection, trading and overall handling of internet users’ personal data. The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was enacted in Europe in 2018 and was followed by the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA). The regulations take effect on January 1, 2023, and seek to remedy past abuses of data collection by technology companies. The moves are validated by a Pew Research Center survey that found 72% of people felt like the majority of online activity was being tracked by advertisers, tech firms and others. More than 80% said the potential dangers of mishandled and unauthorized data collection outweighed the benefits. “Users are demanding greater privacy—including transparency, choice, and control over how their data is used — and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands,” Google announced in a blog post on March 3, 2021. “When all major browsers stop supporting third-party cookies, it will become impossible to set up audience targeting and frequency capping for 99% of users.”

But the sky is not completely falling on the heads of advertisers and marketing practitioners. First-party cookies that are created and stored by publishers and advertisers, and not transferred to a third party, will be allowed to remain in use. It may also be realized that brands who harvest, store and manage their own data will benefit from consumers’ appreciation for having control over private information. “By enabling customers to document their experiences in the form of videos, photos, audio, and narratives, they speak truth to other consumers in ways that brand-driven narratives cannot. The brand and retailer thus become the conduit by which consumer content – and the experiences within – is exchanged,” says Mike Svatek, CEO and founder of Rivet Works.

The most dangerous issue for most advertisers is the delay in planning and implementing policies and procedures to ensure they are ready for the onset of the regulations. A research study by Forrester found that 41% of marketers still rely exclusively on third-party data. Time is running out for brands to take control of the data collection process and be ready for a world without third-party cookies. Businesses need to educate themselves about the new reality coming in digital marketing. Brands must be prepared to take control and responsibility for data; establish a clear and transparent process to verify customer consent to collect and handle data; improve content creation and customer targeting; and improve consumer trust in a brand’s stewardship of private information. Arlo Gilbert, CEO and co-founder of data privacy platform Osano, says, “In an era where the regulators and the public expect increasing control over how their data is handled, it is critical that businesses ask [for] user consent to collect data in a proactive and clear way.”

In the emerging digital marketing environment, brands and others who deploy content marketing have to work harder and smarter to develop content strategies that reflect the changing data collection environment. Brands will need to focus more on practical methods of identifying and tracking consumers’ interests and behaviors and creating messages that are authentic and relevant to targeted consumers.

For advertisers who are scrambling to fully understand the impact of the coming changes and who may be panicking in the face of the upcoming deadline, leading advertising technology companies have already developed and released more than fifty alternative solutions that will allow publishers to continue to help advertisers maintain cross-channel targeting and ad attribution.

Do not hesitate. Advertisers need to begin collecting and segmenting user data, implement new data management platforms (DMP) or creative management platforms (CMP), and form partnerships with reliable technology services to help with customization and integration.