As the greatest space odyssey of our generation comes to an end after 42 years, the long-standing practice of using third-party cookies to power the advertising universe also seems to be stuttering. All signals at the end of 2019 point to 2020 being the year that the third-party cookie’s star finally falls and first-party data reaches its full potential.
The privacy awakens
If third-party cookies had a rough time in 2017 and 2018 with the release of Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention technology and the introduction of GDPR, then 2019 was a year of uncertainty.
The ICO continued to warn the advertising industry that its reliance on third-party cookies was not acceptable, while - looming over the industry like a great space station - the final piece of uncertainty has been whether Google would follow the example set by Apple and Mozilla and block third-party cookies in their dominant Chrome browser. This announcement did not come, as many suspected, at its Google I/O event in June, but in November, Google announced some big changes for next year.
The last browser
In what may well be a final blow for third-party cookies, Google plans to release the latest version of Chrome, which will require all cookies be labelled as ‘same-site’, in February. You can read all about the impact of this here, but the short version is that Google will look to use ‘same-site’ classifications to restrict the data collected by these cookies so that it may no longer be read outside of that site. This means that third-party cookies will lose the data portability that provides the cross-site tracking and targeting which powers the current advertising ecosystem.
The loss of this capability will be felt across the entire advertising universe like the destruction of Alderaan. But with the likely sunsetting of this tracking and targeting method, we will see the rise of the light side of the force via first-party data in 2020 as companies in the adtech ecosystem look to future-proof their business by building up their known, and therefore addressable, audience.
Overcoming the phantom menace
Currently, the vast majority of users visiting media owners site are unknown phantoms. They appear, consume content and disappear, with the media owner having little knowledge of them except single-site behaviour powered by their first-party cookies. Without a way to identify these visitors, the most that can be achieved is loose contextual targeting, as it is not possible to tie them to a profile and make them available for more personalised messaging and targeting. However, brands have become accustomed to people-based marketing capabilities made available to them by the dominant forces of Facebook, Google and Amazon, who hold extensive identity graphs that cross channels and devices. Therefore only having the option of contextual targeting simply doesn’t allow companies outside this walled garden to remain competitive.
As we covered in a previous article on the addressable journey, the advertising industry will need to move to a world of known users in order to unlock greater addressability. This will be particularly true of media owners, who we expect to see invest heavily in finding methods of getting their users to register and/or subscribe.
In doing so, media owners will be able to build their addressable audience and make this available to brands and their media agencies to run targeted advertising campaigns.
Bringing new identity to the (advertising) galaxy
We expect to see new entrants in the identity resolution market that will help connect the identities held in these various first-party data silos. But these won’t be the usual suspects - we expect to see companies with scaled, multinational people-level identity bringing their graphs to market, utilising leading-edge privacy solutions to unlock the full value in their data.
Return of the adtech
The last couple of years have been tough for the advertising ecosystem, but we see strong signs that 2020 will be the year that the industry turns a corner.
We’re already hearing very positive conversations taking place about how the industry will move away from third-party cookies.
In their place, the adtech ecosystem will move to an addressable world where businesses can work together in a privacy-safe, secure and trusted manner, and where first-party data is the force that binds us all together.