The demise of cookies is advertisers’ Sliding Doors moment

The demise of cookies is advertisers’ Sliding Doors moment

The actions that the industry takes now will have big repercussions further down the line and, if you do nothing, don’t expect a happy ending.

“Should advertisers be preparing for yet another extension to the Chrome tracking cookie phase-out?” pondered a piece I was reading yesterday, following IAB Tech Lab’s gap analysis of Privacy Sandbox.

The report — which was carried out over six months and involved over 65 companies — identified a number of things marketers would cease to be able to do once we finally bid adieu to third-party cookies. Things that we have become very used to doing, like attribution reporting, efficient exclusion targeting and bid-loss analysis. Things that, until now, we took for granted as part of the marketing milieu.

Unsurprisingly, this has rung alarm bells across the industry and revived the inevitable question: is this really going to happen? This is swiftly followed by: do we need to prepare for a further delay instead? While I can’t give you exact dates, I can give you a couple of answers. Yes, this really is going to happen. And no, you shouldn’t waste valuable time by banking on a delay. As I said on stage at LEAD last week via a somewhat left-field Sliding Doors analogy…

Don’t be left on the platform

We’ve all seen this 1990s classic (if not, you’re welcome). We all know that one version of Gwyneth catches the train, the other doesn’t, and that the outcomes are life-alteringly different. This isn’t just about haircuts.

Our industry is at a similar juncture — it’s why I’m dubbing the current situation advertisers’ Sliding Doors moment. The actions that you take now are going to have big repercussions further down the line and the very worst thing is that you do nothing, bank on further delays, settle into inertia and decide to see how this all plays out. Sure, it might be easier in the short term, but don’t expect a happy ending.

To put it bluntly: it’s vital that you take action and future-proof your targeting and measurement strategies. For years, we’ve all been reading about “the cookie-pocalyspe”, the “death of cookies” and the “crumbling cookie” that stand to rob us of the ability to accurately track, serve and assess.

It’s potent imagery that has a huge impact on how we collectively approach this shift. There is no denying that the deprecation of third-party cookies is a big change that throws up a number of important challenges. We knew this wouldn’t be easy. But it’s also not helpful to think about it as a negative development or one that is being forced on the industry by Big Tech.

The reality is that third-party cookies aren’t fit for purpose and they weren’t designed to be used the way they are currently used. We now have a rare opportunity to do things differently and do things better. It’s a chance to create solutions that are compliant with current data protection laws by design, rather than retrofitting pre-existing strategies to keep up with changes.

Getting this right requires action from all of us.

We’re not looking for an understudy

It’s natural to want third-party cookies to be replaced by something like third-party cookies. As humans, we gravitate towards the familiar, but to navigate this successfully we have to think differently and embrace the new. Google has stated that it is not seeking to develop solutions that replicate cookies and the Information Commissioner’s Office has warned the industry that it won’t accept anything that tries to.

We also need to be realistic that digital advertising post-cookies will be more fragmented, with marketers drawing on a suite of possible solutions to find what works best for their objectives, rather than falling back on one shared identifier. “No silver bullet” is an industry idiom I try to avoid at the best of times, but it’s made for this scenario.

That means you need to take action now. No-one else can do that for you and — while it’s easy to feel powerless when faced with such a big change, with timelines that are out of your control — you do have agency. Research solutions, get stuck into trialling them and feed back to developers (and the Competition & Markets Authority in the case of Privacy Sandbox) on how they work in the field.

This is a vital part of the process and why developments like IAB Tech Lab’s report are so important. It’s only by analysing performance and sharing information as an industry that we can understand where more work is needed. It’s right that such a fundamental shift is subject to such rigorous examination.


To round up my slightly laboured movie analogy, take a leaf out of the director’s book.

Call for action. Spur your teams into testing now before cookies are removed and — to bring it back to where we started — don’t prepare for another delay from Google. Whether there is or isn’t one is largely irrelevant.

The shift away from third-party identifiers is already well under way and getting on the front foot means not waiting for the final phase-out. We’re at a crossroads and the action you take today will define how this plays out tomorrow.

James Chandler is chief marketing officer at IAB UK

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