The Cookie-Pocalypse is Coming: What Does This Mean for Advertisers?

by Silverback Strategies | March 5, 2020

Last year, Pivotal Research Senior Analyst Michael Levine downgraded Facebook’s stock citing concerns about the disappearance of third-party cookies and the declining demand for direct-to-consumer brands.

This so-called “cookie-pocalypse” loomed over the heads of marketers ever since Google announced in May of 2019 that they will phase out third-party cookies over the course of the next two years.

If the industry’s most sophisticated analysts are questioning the social platform’s role in advertising, what does this mean for the 7 million advertisers who run ads on the platform every single day?

While it’s still quite unclear what the impact will be for advertisers who use the native platforms — Google Ads and Facebook Ads — this is going to have a significant effect on those who leverage retargeting platforms or demand-side platforms (DSPs) heavily reliant on third-party cookies.

I spoke with Silverback’s Louis Belpaire to get to the bottom of it.

Q: Are DSPs doomed?

A: Many experts are saying DSPs are on borrowed time. 

To review, DSPs third-party software commonly used by advertisers to access ad inventory from a marketplace on which publishers list their supply. DSPs enable programmatic advertising, meaning the ads are purchased programmatically through real-time bidding and direct deals. 

Third-party data fuels the algorithms in programmatic advertising — taking information like user browser history, IP address and online behavior into account. As Google phases out third-party cookie support from Chrome, third-party data publishers will struggle significantly, signalizing DSPs’ demise.

Think of it this way: Why would an advertiser pay for space on a publisher’s website if the audience isn’t guaranteed? They wouldn’t. DSPs will have to begin looking into alternative solutions to make up for that loss of revenue. 

Experts predict new cookie-less identifiers will appear. In fact, Merkle recently announced a new ID standard that lets advertisers reach online audiences sans third-party cookies. The solution, called Merkury, leverages a first-party publisher tag enabling audience retargeting on social platforms (like Facebook) and over email by matching hashed email addresses. 

Q: If third-party cookies are going away, what is Google’s solution?

A. Google is currently trialing their solution for cookie-less tracking for a future in-market on Chrome. 

Google plans to enable targeted ad placement by sorting audiences into interest-based anonymous cohorts. This will be called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), and while practitioners aren’t clear on the details yet, it will allow Google to track individual movement (not shared) to assign people to a cohort (shared), allowing advertisers to select their audience.

It’s in Google’s interest to make this type of tracking work, so we’ll have to see where this goes.

Q: What are advertisers’ options in a cookie-less world?

A. The absence of third-party cookies presents marketers with a few key challenges:

  • DSPs will be way less effective
  • Data transfer across platforms will be difficult
  • Retargeting could become a less efficient tactic

Until we know more about the Sandbox solution and whether or not marketers will be graced by cookie-less identifiers, here’s what you can do right now.

1. Hone your first-party data strategy

The data you own — customer information collected from form fills, call centers, etc. — will be vital in a cookie-less world. Whether you use this data to create Lookalike Audiences on Facebook or build a robust, personalized email strategy to keep customers coming back, it will play a significant role in reaching current and prospective audiences. Of course, this is naturally easier for e-commerce and DTC brands, but businesses of varying models must find a way to exchange value for consumer information.

In addition to the data you own, platforms with logged-in data — especially Google and Facebook — are now more powerful than ever. Using these native platforms and their built-in first-party data collection capabilities still gives marketers access to audiences with a higher propensity to convert.

If you’re wondering what a solid first-party data strategy actually looks like, contact our Paid Media team — we can audit your existing strategy and make recommendations for how to move forward.

2. Contextual targeting

In addition to implementing robust first-party data solutions, marketers will see a growing reliance on contextual data and content strategy.

Although this may seem like a blast from the past, many advertisers will flock here, considering the future of other popular advertising alternatives remains uncertain. 

With this approach, you’re able to meet users where they are and provide them with contextually relevant ads. For example, showing ads for car rentals, hotels or tours when a user browses an airfare website.

Read: 2020 Search Marketing Trends to Keep Your Eye On

Q: So, should you sell your Facebook stock?

A. While how you trade the stock certainly might be influenced by the disappearance of third-party cookies, any buy/sell decision is of course predicated on your view of whether equity shares are over- or under-priced in the market today. 

I will say Levine’s claim that Facebook’s exposure to DTC brands is a reason for downgrading seems like a bit of a stretch. 

Retail (the majority of which is not DTC) might account for 20% of Facebook ad spend, but very steady spending in verticals such as automotive, finance, and telecom all represent over 10% each and have increased their Facebook investments equally as fast as retail over the last few years. That alone doesn’t seem like a strong enough argument to panic and sell, but there’s surely a lot to keep our eye on as the advertising landscape changes.

Partner with Silverback to Survive in a Post-cookie World

Silverback’s paid media and analytics experts are at the forefront of digital transformation, and we’re here to help our clients stay ahead of the game. 

Schedule your Free Digital Marketing Audit today or email our VP of Strategy & Development Allyson Cochran directly at acochran@silverbackstrategies.com to get the conversation started.

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