Online advertising industry reacts to Chrome’s cookie obsolescence delay

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Following Google’s announcement on Thursday that Chrome would delay its elimination of third-party cookies by almost two years, the overwhelming feeling in the industry is…relief.

Although agency, ad tech, and programmatic publisher executives told confident stories about digital ad projects without third-party cookies, this reality was more like a train rushing down an unfinished track, and everyone knew that it would end in disaster – at least in terms of ad rates and performance – without such a reprieve.

Early next year, Google’s Privacy Sandbox, where developers can test out cookie-based use case replacements, wasn’t going to be ready to come to light in time for third-party cookie removal. .

For public ad-tech companies, that relief has manifested itself in commerce. The Trade Desk, LiveRamp, PubMatic, Magnite and Criteo each rose by double-digit percentages after the news.

With more time, companies can do a number of things, respondents pointed out. They can actually test targeting and measurement overrides (while maintaining the safety net of third-party cookies). Publishers and brands will have more time to develop their proprietary data assets. And they can deal with the more immediate identity challenge of Apple’s iOS changes.

The news isn’t all rosy: some companies are likely to dither and kick the box. And nearly two years of additional delays bring uncertainty to the industry and could halt investment. Moreover, identity companies created to respond to the cookieless reality could see their future in jeopardy if potential customers no longer see the urgency to act.

AdExchanger spoke with executives across the ecosystem about their reactions to the news and the outlook for third-party cookie replacements, with another 18 months to work on alternatives – until the middle or end of 2023.



AdExchanger: What was your first reaction to the news?

LOCH ROSE, Chief Analytics Officer, Epsilon: Well, I wasn’t surprised at all. I don’t see what choice Google gave to the fact that they couldn’t launch any FLoCs in the EU, and that FLEDGE didn’t launch at all. The original schedule was just not practical.

PAUL BANNISTER, Chief Strategy Officer, CafeMedia: I think Google has a legitimate interest in getting rid of cookies and moving to a more private web. But there were definitely issues with parts of Privacy Sandbox like FLoC and GDPR compliance, or FLEDGE not moving as fast as they wanted. I know I expected a delay, but I didn’t think it would be two years.

MATT BARASH, Zeotap SVP Global Publishing and Platform Partnerships: It’s not a huge surprise because ultimately the industry was ill-prepared. Google is demonstrating, perhaps for the first time, that they don’t have all their ducks in a row in the effort to roll this out. They hadn’t even really entered Europe in terms of testing. It’s a huge, complex market where the marketing plan just doesn’t exist yet.

Is the delay unfair to companies that have worked hard to pass third-party cookies and actively engage in Privacy Sandbox proposals?

LUKASZ WLODARCZYK, Director of Global Inventory Partnerships at RTB House: Since January 2020, we have been working hard to make our platform fully compatible with the Privacy Sandbox vision. We recently reached an important milestone: the first DSP to successfully test and use FLEDGE simulation. However, today’s update from Google regarding the Privacy Sandbox milestone schedule is a development that we consider positive. This provides a more realistic timeline for other market participants.

TODD ​​PARSONS, Criteo Chief Product Officer: We’ve been at the forefront of Sandbox privacy discussions, and we even have our own bird (a reference to the proposals named Bird in the Sandbox). But we, like most others I suspect, breathe a little easier.

We’ve been ahead of that, but the original trials and FLoC trials are so early that there’s not enough to be able to say intelligently how and if these solutions will work. If we can’t get sample data [large] enough to run tests and start showing pass criteria, so we’re definitely not going to ship it. The relief is that we can now be methodical about testing solutions and bringing them to the ecosystem without it feeling forced.

BANNISTER: I think that’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it postpones fears of Armageddon. But on the other hand, it lengthens this period of uncertainty. I was starting to think that Sandbox proposals might actually work, so I’m very curious to understand Google’s logic. A lot of people in ad tech have moved too slowly here. The Privacy Sandbox (or something like it) must be an important part of the future of digital advertising. To delay working on that future is wrong.

JAMES ROSEWELL, CEO of 51degrees: People have worked hard to meet the deadline, but to transition to what? The “what” is vaporware. There are discussions in the W3C and testing of things like FLoC that don’t really work. Everyone worked hard to attend meetings and sometimes have a real debate. But there is nothing substantial.

Will there still be momentum to test and adopt new privacy technologies after this time?

NICHOLAS FLOOD, Future Director of Global Commerce Operations: Over the past few months, I’ve certainly seen an increase in these discussions with agencies and large clients, where people are starting to really approach commerce in cookie-free environments. Publishers have the option of relocating [forward with] these clients while continuing their first-party audience approach.

PARSONS: Advertisers will continue to spend on cookie-based audiences until the last moment. But I think there’s enough pressure from other data deprecations to propel us forward, instead of the usual kick in the road. Apple has been ruthless, for example, in keeping this issue in the news and in taking step after step to curb data-driven advertising from other companies.

AARON GROTE, Senior Director of Identity and Attribution Products at Stirista: Google delays moving away from third-party cookies in Chrome will stop most of the work being done on both the buy and sell side to develop new products and media targeting and measurement practices… the announcement implied that their hands were tied by antitrust regulators. Many companies will read this and decide it’s too risky to invest in technologies and processes that may be regulated in a few years.

ALEX STEER, Global Chief Data Officer, Wunderman Thompson: Changes to Tracking Across All Devices [is] motivated by genuine consumer concern. Many brands, agencies, and publishers are moving too slowly to adapt their performance marketing to these changes, and many of the so-called “cookie-free” tracking solutions hitting the market are still just new ways to track individuals on the website. Parts of our industry may breathe a temporary sigh of relief today, but third-party cookies are still a poor indicator for understanding customers.

TRAVIS CLINGER, LiveRamp SVP of Addressability and Ecosystem: We see this delay as a good thing for the industry. But still, the message is very good not to take your foot off the accelerator. The industry still needs to move full speed ahead towards buying on people-based identity while we can still leverage the scale of third-party data to test new methods for things like capping and measuring frequency.

I’m optimistic, so I think the urgency is still there. if you act now, you will be much better prepared than the people who delay and scramble in 2023.

What are the consequences of this delay and the extension of third-party cookies for the ecosystem?

FLOOD: Well, there are maybe hundreds of ID companies that have based their marketing on Google ads. As this news leaks out, it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of it disappeared. There just isn’t any money flowing through these systems on the buy side yet, so pushing back a few more years could lead to a stark wake-up call for some of these ID companies.

BARASH: It gives publishers a window of opportunity to reinvent themselves. Not just scrambling to reinvent itself, but to get out of posture and move more into true testing mode.

The industry was on the verge of a potential capitulation on things like measurement and attribution. After more than 10 years of having a pretty good lens in digital advertising, we were looking at a situation in a year where agencies and marketers are flying blind. This at least creates business continuity for the foreseeable future. It’s a win for independent ad tech.

CLINGER: This is an opportunity for open web publishers to get credentials. Many publishers have authentication rates [the percent of site visitors who are logged in or agree to share their email address] below where they would like to be.

NICOLE LESKO, Meredith Digital COO: The immediate net result is that this will help publishers maintain CPM stability over the next couple of years and address some of the more immediate readiness concerns. We should take advantage of the gift of time to develop solutions that address the necessary use cases in a user-transparent and privacy-compliant way.

While we’re not taking the foot off the gas without a cookie, it does allow us to dig deeper into Apple’s upcoming iOS15 changes, which may pose more pervasive revenue risks than open CPMs.

ROSE: It’s important to have third-party cookies for experimentation. This announcement means advertisers can directly compare buying third-party cookies to alternatives for the next year or two. From the agency’s perspective, without it, the industry was headed for certain disaster.

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