By Alastair McVeigh - 16th January 2020
Google has announced in a blog post that within two years it plans to ‘phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome’ in response to demands for greater user privacy.
This is big news: third-party cookies have fuelled the growth of personalised digital advertising. Google is the biggest ad network and Chrome the most-used browser.
What impact will this have for B2B marketing? Well, Google’s announcement has naturally caused alarm among advertisers: if we don’t know who is looking at an advert, the relevance–and value–of that advert is greatly reduced.
However, considering Google’s multi-billion dollar business is built on advertising revenue, its solution is certainly not going to reduce the value of its ad network.
In fact, the company states the need to ‘sustain a healthy, ad-supported web’ which supports ‘the needs of users, publishers, and advertisers’.
Even without third-party cookies, Google has the ability to sustain its ad network: it collects massive amounts of data that aren’t cookies, from Maps and Gmail, for example; it can argue that cookies from its own products, such as search and Chrome, are ‘first-party’ cookies (and therefore useable); and it can confidently add more transparency and choice.
The final point–choice–is key. Google own some of the most useful products on the internet, and they’re free, insuring them against users ‘opting-out’ of sharing data. The value exchange between Google and the user is clear: would you hand over browsing data for an optimal experience with Maps? Many people would.
The value exchange between a typical ad network is less obvious: Would you share browsing data so you can see better adverts? Hmmm, not so sure.
So, phasing out third-party cookies in Chrome could spell trouble for smaller ad networks, or data aggregators, whose whole business models rely on gathering and analysing third-party cookie data for the use of their clients. And that revenue, no doubt, will end up going in Google’s direction.
This also poses a challenge for ABM (Account Based Marketing), which is assisted by cookie-driven Intent data; and a large element of how intent signals are recognised is through third-party data. Agencies relying on Intent data will evolve to find other solutions; companies solely supplying Intent data will have to radically rethink their models.
This move by Google to stop using third-party cookies is not unprecedented: Firefox and Safari don’t allow third-party cookies, but they don’t have ad networks to protect.
So what does this all mean for marketers?
Whatever Google comes up with as the alternative, the solution will be advertiser friendly. It will still be easy and valuable to spend money on the Google ad network.
Some of the products offered by agencies will have to evolve. And it will be down to agencies to guide their clients’ strategies and tools in a world where third-party cookies are obsolete.
Agencies will continue to thrive as long as they are adaptable: brands will still need agencies and agencies will still serve their customers as well as they can, with the best tools available. This has always been the case, and will continue to be, whatever Google do.