Google recently made another major announcement in its quest to usher in a cookie-less world. Recall that in January 2020, Google said it was going to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome in a bid to protect consumer privacy more effectively. On March 3, Google published an update: Google will not build alternative tracking technologies (or use those being developed by other companies) for its own ad buying tools to replace third-party cookies. Let’s take a closer look at what Google announced.
What exactly did Google announce?
Google said that once third-party cookies are phased out of Chrome browsers, Google will not build alternative identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will Google use them in its products. Examples of those alternative identifiers include Unified ID and LiveRamp IdentityLink.
Instead, Google wants advertisers to adopt cohort-based targeting, or grouping people based on their common browsing behavior as an alternative to third-party cookies. Specifically, Google is advocating for the adoption of FLoCs (federated learning cohorts) developed out Google’s own Privacy Sandbox initiative. According to Google,
. . . our latest tests of FLoC show one way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests. Chrome intends to make FLoC-based cohorts available for public testing through origin trials with its next release this month, and we expect to begin testing FLoC-based cohorts with advertisers in Google Ads in Q2. Chrome also will offer the first iteration of new user controls in April and will expand on these controls in future releases, as more proposals reach the origin trial stage, and they receive more feedback from end users and the industry.
How will online advertising be affected?
It’s likely that advertisers will still be able to create targeted ads based on user behavior – but the ads will be based on larger cohorts of people based on their common browsing behavior as an alternative to third-party cookies. Google told The Wall Street Journal that ads using cohort-based targeting have performed nearly as well as the existing tools that target consumers individually.
But no one yet knows exactly how targeting will change. As Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communication officer at Mastercard, told The Wall Street Journal, “When you’re able to target precisely to individuals your effectiveness is very high. When you’re doing it to cohorts it’s bound to be lesser than the individual, but we don’t know how much less at this point in time.”
What should advertisers do?
We always recommend that when Google makes a major change to its products that advertisers keep a close watch on their spend and costs especially for any potential near-term fluctuations. (If you are a True Interactive client, we do that for you.) Beyond that, it’s time to wait and see. The worst action to take is to stop advertising on Google. Google remains the Number One digital advertising platform, even if targeting consumer behavior across Google’s universe changes from personal to cohort-based targeting.
- Keep an eye on how the Google sandbox initiative evolves especially as Google begins testing FloC with advertisers in the second quarter.
- Consider tapping into your own first-party data more effectively to create ads (and True Interactive can help you do so). As Google pointed out, “We will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers. And we’ll deepen our support for solutions that build on these direct relationships between consumers and the brands and publishers they engage with.”
- Google’s FloC may not be your only alternative, the March 3 announcement notwithstanding. Watch the development initiatives such as Unified ID 2.0, which is a next generation identity solution built on an open-source digital framework. Unified ID 2.0 is the result of a collaboration among publishers, buyers, and technology providers. According to a recent announcement, Unified ID 2.0 serves as an alternative to third-party cookies. Unified ID 2.0 aims to improve consumer transparency, privacy, and control, while preserving the value exchange of relevant advertising across channels and devices. Tom Kershaw, the chief technology officer of Magnite and chairman of Prebid.org — which is the operator of Unified ID 2.0 — dismissed the Google news. He told Campaign that Google’s March 3 announcement has zero effect on Unified ID 2.0. He also said that he was never under an impression that Google would participate in Unified ID 2.0. For more insight, read his newly published commentary on AdExchanger.
- Consider ad platforms such as Amazon Advertising and Walmart Connect, which give businesses entrée to a vast base of customers who search and shop on Amazon and Walmart. True Interactive offers services on both platforms in addition to our longstanding work on Google, Bing, and other platforms.