Cookies and Chrome: how to avoid being left behind

Ben Johnson

Senior Copywriter, Jellyfish

Since Google announced their two year plan to build a more private web by blocking third party cookies from the Chrome browser experience, many of us marketers have felt like a teenager who’s been asked to clean their bedroom.

‘Do I have to?!’ 

This natural response to a required behavior change belies a deeper truth: Nobody denies that the room is, indeed, filthy.

Google is right to take action. 

It turns out – as indicated by public appetite for privacy regulations – that people don’t much like being cyber-stalked by brands. Moving to a cookie-less model is a positive step in maintaining the long term health of the golden goose of digital ad inventory.

But even though this is a big move in the right direction, it will necessitate some major changes across a digital marketing industry that has in some instances crossed a line. As Jellyfish VP of Training for Analytics Aislinn O’Toole puts it, “Sometimes we need to take what we think is a step back to move forward.”

We spoke to O’Toole and other Jellyfish leaders to get a sense of what marketers should do differently in the next two years and beyond.

Make Key Changes Immediately

After having seen the relatively chaotic aftermath of Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention update, Google has taken a much more measured approach to killing the cookie. Thus far, the Chrome rollout has consisted of a developer interface called the Privacy Sandbox, in which planned changes are recommended, tested, and vetted in open dialogue. 

Jellyfish VP of Analytics Dan Smulevich says, ‘So far, Google has reassured the entire ecosystem of advertisers, publishers, agencies and vendors that support for third party cookies is going to be discontinued in phases, with valid, open source solutions in place.’ Google has also assured developers that all planned changes will be careful to prevent even more invasive workarounds such as device ID fingerprinting. 

But that doesn’t mean marketers can just coast on the cookie for two more years.

Changes to the Chrome browser ecosystem are slated to begin within the next month. 

The first concrete shift will be a new requirement that all third party cookies follow secure html protocol. The next, an anti-fingerprinting initiative to prevent cookie workarounds that use location services to track individual user activity.

So from an advertiser perspective, if you’ve been relying on unsecure third party cookies or fingerprinting – two practices on the margins of responsible marketing anyway – you can expect a pretty serious dip in numbers fairly soon. And you should stop.

Reorient your approach to inventory

When third party cookies become a thing of the past, it stands to reason that other data sources will grow in prominence. 

That includes second party data, which means advertisers will need to rely on publishers more heavily. According to Jellyfish VP of Training for Programmatic Ivan Alcantara, ‘Brands and agencies will need to strengthen their relationships with premium publishers even more than before to ensure brand safety standards and contextual targeting needs are met. And publishers are already starting to form alliances to gain user consent in exchange for content.’

But what about the impact on pricing?

‘Prices on YouTube, CTV, and similar premium publisher inventory will go up, which will in turn may make comparatively lower prices for open web display inventory – such as we’re seeing in Safari now – more appealing,’ adds Smulevich.

Some prominent advertising environments (YouTube most notably) are already cookieless. That’s one place advertisers can look for a sense of how digital inventory is likely to evolve, with the arc thus far moving toward post-login data with user controlled personalization settings. 

It’s not hard to see the entire internet following this trajectory.

Switch tactics to help grow new data pipelines 

Google’s announcement comes with a two year runway, but smart (and compliant) marketers have already begun their pivot to post-cookie tactics. 

Embracing (and extending) owned and partnered data is a good first step. The more data you have, the better you’ll be able to activate contextual targeting through data clean room environments such as Ads Data Hub. 

Jellyfish VP of SEO Jon Verrall notes, ‘Versatile brands appreciate that the most effective way to stay ahead of the curve is to expand and better leverage first-party and Google-owned data.’

O’Toole agrees, adding, ‘I predict greater collaboration between analysts and marketing teams as they review what precious data they do have. It’ll be crucial to scan for trends, come up with testing plans, and feed those insights back into the planning of future campaigns.’

Those future campaigns might also take a different shape than they have under the current cookie fueled flighting of primarily conversion-oriented media.

‘We expect brands to increase investment in an activity used to broaden top of funnel visibility with a view to building out first-party data,’ says Verrall. And he adds that this predicted rise in prominence of awareness media will have a deeper strategic purpose, noting that, ‘Through the enrichment of first-party data, brands can further segment and model audiences to empower media and targeting capabilities.’

Return to a more creative-driven approach

In fact, the need for an expanded first party data set may somewhat counterintuitively return digital advertising to a more creative-driven approach. 

Alcantara predicts, ‘Media plans will look very similar to what they used to be in 2010, with lots of line items pertaining to specific publishers.’ And O’Toole sees ‘more investment in creative and innovative experiences that combine more qualitative data as well as quantitative data to truly understand what customers want.’

So what feels like a major setback for media management wizards might actually be a boon to an industry that’s been more data than flash (lower-case ‘f’) lately.

Prepare accordingly.

If you need more specific guidance on how to pivot your marketing activity to a post-cookie world, Jellyfish is only an email away.