It seems cliché to write about the death of cookies these days. It’s all we ever seem to talk about.

Then again, it will bring about an all-encompassing seismic change to the way that advertising is bought, programmatically.

But there's also no need to panic.

The incoming changes will affect your programmatic activity beyond the end of this year. Below, we go into more depth about what that looks like, and offer some direction to help you navigate the seemingly endless content and varying advice that is out there.

And don't worry, the irony of writing yet another blog post on the subject isn't lost on us.

Again, Please Don’t Panic

But do take it seriously.

The departure from third-party cookies is fundamentally a good thing for the programmatic industry. The word ‘death’ always seemed a bit too dramatic anyway.

We need to think of this industry change as a fit-for-purpose Darwinian evolution into the digital-first world, rather than an unavoidable meteor heading for the LUMAscape that will bring about the mass extinction of DSPs and ad networks.

What Will Change for Programmatic?

Without wanting to sound like a eulogy, cookies have been the backbone of the programmatic industry since their inception. We have a lot to be thankful for, but it also means that lots will change, the four most important areas being...

Frequency Capping – the ability to target users across a range of sites and targeting strategies will be difficult.

Audience Targeting – anything not based on logged-in user data will essentially become worthless. Even those audience lists based on logged-in user data will only work in walled gardens, as it currently stands.

Retargeting – if you’re not using consented first-party data through a DMP or on a customer match basis, forget about it.

Measurement – programmatic advertising plays an important role in the customer journey but proving its value will become even harder as the ability to track post-view activity vanishes.

What Solutions Are Being Put in Place?

Solutions are in motion, but we just have to have a bit of patience.

Being candid, no clear path or single solution that will enable us to do the type of programmatic buying that we’re used to has yet emerged.

Several solutions will likely arise over the next two years that will enable us to optimise like the good old days. There may be some new industry buzzwords, which you might’ve recently heard of:

Firstly, Privacy Sandbox – this is not a solution itself, it’s more a Google-owned initiative of around 30 potential new tech solutions that aims to remedy the targeting, tracking, and measurement hangover left in the wake of the removal of cookies.

You’ve probably heard or come across FLEDGE and FLoC from this initiative. In a nutshell, FLoC provides privacy by placing your browsing behaviours in a group of users with the same interests.

FLEDGE uses the individual user’s browser to store any audience data, meaning the auction happens in the browsers rather than on a third-party exchange. These are still in development and have run into a spot of bother with GDPR and competition regulation.

Secondly, Project Rearc, which is short for “Rearchitect”, was established last year by our good friends at the IAB. This project has a broader scope of looking at wider frameworks and accountability standards with privacy at the centre.

One of the most promising solutions arising from this working group is UID 2.0 from theTradeDesk. This is an open-source solution available for free and built on hashed and encrypted email addresses.

This aims to replace cookies by mapping users to IDs across multiple touchpoints and then profiling this out for measurement and frequency capping using AI and probabilistic data.

All solutions aim to address the issues around audience targeting, measurement, and frequency capping, my advice would be to watch this space closely.

What Should I Do?

Unfortunately, there's no definite workaround. Not yet at least. Even though Google has extended the life of the cookie across Chrome until 2023, don’t get complacent.

There are things you can do right now to better prepare yourself for the brave new world.

1. Invest in Your First-Party Data

Take this seriously, and start looking into this now.

Look into DMP solutions, figure out how you can legally integrate it into your advertising platforms, be creative with how you collect it and keep it up to date.

2. Figure Out What’s Working

Look at your own campaigns and activity. Audit where you’re seeing good performance. Look at the things we don’t need cookies for - time of day, domain, context, location.

3. Creative Optimisation

Over the years we’ve optimised the audience targeting to the Nth degree. Be honest, how much have you invested in finding out what creative message is working best? Look at well-structured and fair creative testing as a way of improving your performance.

4. Test, Test, Test

Be brave with new media owner cookie-less solutions. If you never try them, then you’ll never know. Be prepared to accept that something might not work – at the end of the day you’ve still learned something.

Also remember that performance does not necessarily have to be better than a cookie solution – if your campaign has the same impact as when you used cookies, then count that as a success.

5. Keep Yourself Educated

Keep an ear to the ground on user-enabled developments. Reach out to the core media owners you use and ask them what “ID” solutions they are planning. It’s unlikely they’ll have a concrete answer for you now, but they will then keep you up to date as the year goes on.

6. Learn How Dependent You Are

Audit which media owners, ad networks, platforms and DSPs you are currently using to see how dependent they are on third-party cookies – you’ll then know where you are most vulnerable to third-party cookie demise.

Final Thoughts

Consumers have become savvier about their data privacy, and as advertisers, we need to be tuned into this cultural shift. It’s now time to change direction and provide better advertising experiences.

If we do that, impactful results will follow. But you need to start investigating this now – fail to prepare, prepare to fail.