Why Google's cookie play will change performance marketing for the better
A view from Luke Judge

Why Google's cookie play will change performance marketing for the better

Google's new approach to third party cookies is the death knell for digital advertising as we know it.

It was no secret Google was planning to join Apple and Mozilla in restricting the use of tracking cookies in its flagship Chrome browser. But the scope and scale of its approach to third party cookies will bring about seismic industry changes – and for the better. 

Safari and Firefox already block third party cookies by default, but Chrome is bigger than both combined, boasting a 63% worldwide market share, according to StatCounter.  

Announcing the news in a blog post, Justin Schuh, Chrome’s director of engineering, said: "Users are demanding greater privacy and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these demands."

These are powerful words from a web giant that built its business on third party principles – and they matter. 

This is the death knell for digital advertising as we know it, an industry already rocked by browser changes elsewhere and the introduction of legislation such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the recently enacted California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). 

Time for re-evaluation

The immediacy of ‘performance’ has in no small way shaped the advertising and communications industries in the latter half of the 2010s.

Advertisers and agencies have locked into the very real and measurable benefits that performance marketing channels bring in terms of segmentation, targeting, measurement, efficiencies and conversion of customers. 

Highly accountable, performance marketing is a powerhouse that advertisers can use to their advantage to drive short-term sales, which retailers particularly will need as they attempt to recover from 2019 – a year that the British Retail Consortium this month called "the worst since 1995". Sales in November and December 2019 were particularly weak, falling 0.9%, it added. 

Yet in a privacy-first era, performance marketing alone will not be enough. And nor should it be. Retailers, travel brands, dining, entertainment and leisure venues among others all face increasingly difficult regulatory and trading conditions. Rent inflation is only one part of the story.

Savvy marketers will increasingly explore what could be defined as ‘performance plus’ activity, particularly as the digital ecosystem evolves away from the third party data basis on which it has grown up. 

GDPR-compliant data clean rooms will grow

Attribution modeling took a hit with GDPR because advertisers lost some of their ability to upload user and cookie IDs into a system for comparative purposes as they did before. No longer could advertisers tell whether a particular user sees an ad or not, clicks on it or not, and correlate that back between activities and outcomes across channels. 

Data clean rooms allow advertisers to get that ability back, albeit on a clustered aggregate basis – which in itself is no bad thing, and is certainly a step in the right direction – particularly in light of Google’s announcement and future mooted regulations worldwide. 

Such data clean rooms enable data providers, such as Google, to generate important  audience insights and performance measurement information that can be shared with advertisers and agencies in a secure and compliant way. 

Paid and organic activity will move closer together

Closely related will be the tying together more closely of paid search and display advertising with organic search and social channels, which marketers have often too easily and readily overlooked. 

Yet, with a little effort and outlay, adding SEO and organic social management and measurement to the marketing stack can add a whole new dimension. Particularly as paid channels, notably search and social, become more expensive and complex: expect to see CPMs rise noticeably this year with big ticket events such as the Olympic Games and US presidential elections on the agenda and with more innovative, creative publisher formats. 

Marketing will rediscover the clout of context and community

A recent Gartner for Marketers report predicted 80% of marketers would stop investing in personalisation over the next five years, with many citing a lack of ROI, the perils of customer data management, or both. 

There will always be instances where one-to-one marketing is the right strategy, but many got carried away with the concept. 

Instead, this new decade will see a return to more contextual marketing – delivered on a one-to-few basis, or one-to-many if the contextual subject has scale. Innovations such as data clean rooms, which contain no fewer than 50 IDs in a cluster, will facilitate this renewed focus on contextual communications. 

Creative will benefit from better integration

Until now, advertisers have not had access to the tools, bandwidth and infrastructure needed to deliver good quality, tailored creative at scale, nor the impetus to raise the creative bar.  

Creativity spend has traditionally been siphoned to the brand piece, the flagship TV ads and big format campaigns with little or no thought to the technological or contextual digital implications until later in the day. 

Expect that to change. There are rich opportunities for those brands prepared to invest, understand and integrate their technology, media and creative more effectively. Marketers must work to ensure such expertise is available at the outset of the ideation, rather than as a bolted-on afterthought. 

At the start of a new decade, at a time of unprecedented external change, driven by the regulators and the browsers, it’s time to reimagine marketing for the better. It’s why marketers must embrace a seamless future, one predicated on leveraging the power of creative, technology and media, and one that has both the business and consumer best interests at heart. 

Luke Judge is chief executive at Incubeta 

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