Cookie Life – Part 1: Status Quo

I wrote this article as part of a series published on the Mercury Media Technology GmbH blog.

Google announced at the beginning of July that it will postpone the launch of the Privacy Sandbox solution in Chrome to the “end of 2023” hence maintaining the support to third-party cookies. It gives the industry some air to implement their new strategies and arbitrage for future open-web campaigns. Let’s use this time to understand what is at stake. 

Why is scraping third-party cookies from Chrome bringing so much trouble to the advertising industry?

  1. Because Chrome represents 65% of all web navigation (cf. Gartner) and 75% of mobile ones (cf Visual capitalist). 
  2. Google alone attracted almost 31% of the total US ad revenue in 2019 (eMarketer)  (2020 being disturbed by Corona) across all formats (display, search, video- desktop, and mobile) and the revenue is growing.

Data collection and capacity to leverage it is becoming concentrated in the hands of a very few actors(such as Google, Facebook Group, and Amazon) due to the limitations that various data protection laws have triggered in the western world. 

To set the scene, let’s double-click on the context:

  • What is Data Privacy Protection?
  • What is classified as Personal Data?
  • What are advertising Cookies?
  • What is changing after the Elimination of Cookies?
  • What are the Alternatives to Cookies?

What is Data privacy protection?

Multiple examples of privacy laws around the world (non-exhaustive list):

  • The European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2016
  • The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) in Canada in 2018
  • The General Data Protection Act (LGPD) in Brazil in 2018
  • The Data Protection Act in the United Kingdom in 2018
  • The Personal Data Protection Bill in India in 2019
  • The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in California (US) in 2019
  • The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) in South Africa in 2020
  • The Data Security Law in China in 2021
  • Various privacy laws in effect in Australia 

Something all these laws have in common is that:

  1. There are sensitive personal data that should be protected 
  2. Businesses can be held financially liable for the mishandling of data at different pipeline stages including secure processing, storage, and transfer (free or at a cost) 

Commonalities of data protection laws

Sensitive personal data should be protected. Businesses can be held financially liable for the mishandling of data at different pipeline stages including secure processing, storage, and transfer (free or at a cost).

What is classified as Personal Data?

Definitions vary from country to country, for example in Europe it says that personal data is any information that relates to an identified or identifiable living individual: 

  • Name and surname
  • Home address
  • Email address 
  • Identification card number
  • IP address
  • Advertising identifier of your phone
  • Health data which could be a symbol that uniquely identifies a person
  • Cookie-ID or location identifier

What are Cookies?

The identification cookies are files created by the websites you visit. They make your online experience easier by saving browsing information (the name or address of the site you visited, your ID, and timestamp). 

There are two types of cookies:

  1. First-party cookies are created when one visits a website. They are set by the site shown in the address bar.
  2. Third-party cookies are created by other sites that own ads or images on the visited website.

With technical cookies, sites can keep you signed in, remember your site preferences, and give you locally relevant content; such cookies do not require the user’s consent. 

Third-party cookies provide support to advertising targeting: they enable the selection of ads according to behavior as well as historical partners identifying user’s interests and potential needs.

First things first, let’s clarify what has happened to data collection via cookies:

Advertisers rely on cookies to track behaviors across the open web. Cookies help follow users from one site to another to serve them with ads that are coherent with their actions. At the same time, cookies record what the users have already seen for future reference (for example, for retargeting purposes).

Here is a timeline of the milestones on the path towards cookie eradication:

MMT - overview of advertising cookies evolution that affects targeting

What is changing after the Elimination of Cookies?

The elimination of cookies compromises the measurement of campaigns on the web and cross-device attribution. We are turning to a consented information gathering: cookies will be saved in the browser and will get no access to the user’s history of actions prior to sending an ad. Campaigns will be running “blind” without any historical information on users.

This entails the following:

  • It will incapacitate many actors involved in digital retargeting 
  • It will limit the ability to create lookalike and similar audiences based on collected first-party data 
  • Performance marketing activities, in general, are going to be handicapped
  • Lookalike and enhanced targeting will be limited 
  • Digital attribution models outside of walled gardens and cross-device targeting are going to be extremely limited.
For advertisersLosing the base for attribution hence no capacity to build conversion funnelsDecreasing cost efficiency of digital campaigns
For publishersLower ad revenue => need to find new sources of fundingConsent world for user identification
For Walled GardensMonopolization of the identification capacityNew sources of revenue
For Open Web data providersLosing the key source of revenue
For end-consumersLower ad relevanceLess intense ad stalking

What are the Alternatives to Cookies?

The whole market is trying to find the most efficient solution to overcome this challenge, with or without leveraging Google’s new offer:

  • First-party data, e.g. email addresses are back as the golden ticket to recognize users across devices and platforms and collect user data
  • Walled gardens will keep offering the same level of granularity in targeting, thanks to the user consent upon login and personal data processing agreements. They have developed network outreach => advertising offers outside of their walls.
  • Cookie alternatives like various technological solutions aiming to replace cookies are already either available or in development. We are planning to give you an overview of these in the next articles. 
  • More traditional targeting options including contextual advertising, geotargeting, seasonality, and timing can be leveraged to guarantee some sense of going back to classic tactics – brands can rely on the specialized websites and relevance of influencers to promote their brands to the users, pending on season, hours of the days and locations, thus limiting wastage. 

To close up

The topic is ongoing – it is important to grasp the context to understand what is coming and build a customized solution for each individual business. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, as business needs and target group behaviors are genuinely different from one sector to another. This series of articles aims to help you navigate through the changes – MMT is here to help you build your #futureproof data solution.


Link to legislative documents:

Right message at the right time – is message more important ?

I worked a great deal of my professional carrier in media, because I love advertising and branding! I have been brought up with TV as the window to the wonders of the world. Great advertising ideas still remains in my memory: baseline that have been repeated so many times that still today they identify with the brands in my head.

When media vehicles were limited, just having budget to run ads would make the difference. Execution was limited : TV in 30s, one poster 4×3 and a portrait version for print…

When media vehicles were limited, just having budget to run ads would make the difference. Execution was limited : TV in 30s, one poster 4×3 and a portrait version for print…

Now media vehicles are fragmented, attention span is limited and the number of messages that people receive any day of the year are four fold : messaging counts way more.

Now media vehicles are fragmented, attention span is limited and the number of messages that people receive any day of the year are four fold : messaging counts way more.

It is not only the idea behind the creation, but also the delivery : the way the story is built.

For instance, TV messaging is usually build like a short movie : the emotional (or the problem + resolution) story unfolds over 25 sec until the big reveal over the last five sec – the brand / product.

Online videos are – on average – watched for just over 2 sec. Forget about the build up !

Pragmatism tells companies to put emphasis on brand presence and immediate rewards to encourage brand interest and/or intention to buy. It supports sell out on the short term, but it does not build brand loyalty on the long run.

Memory expert and world champions agree to say that it is mandatory to construct a story to memorise any type of information, even for a long string of unrelated figures.

Once again, it is about the story.

How does a story sink into someone’s brain? It completely depends on the objective and the people your business wishes to reach.

To brief properly a creative agency, you may want to provide them with the answers to the following questions :

  1. What is your objective : what do you want the audience to do?
  2. Who your audience: what are their values? their lifestyle? and the media they consume? where they would more likely do the action you wish them to do?
  3. How complex is your message?
  4. Which channel can you use to fill your objective?

It would help to define the specs that your story have to fill to get the right action from the right people. Do not hesitate to do A/B testing to select the most efficient approach to your goal.

Each channel has it set of rules and opportunity to think out of the box, but that would come as a future post. Please subscribe to be informed when the next story is published.

Stay tuned and do not hesitate to request more details.

What is Media vs Message ?

After a conversation on communications strategy with one of my clients, I realised it is not generally clear to businesses what the pillars of communications – media and advertising – are.

These are two distinct but intertwined elements that we are going to discuss over the next few posts covering:

  1. What is media vs. message ?
  2. The right message at the right time – what is the right message?
  3. The right message at the right time – when is the right time?

Just to clarify – let’s start with definitions :

‘Medium’ (singular of media) is the vehicle through which information is transmitted.

Any type of vehicles that carry information can be considered media that can influence our view of the world: publisher platforms, social media, word-of-mouth, goodies, branded content, sponsoring, endorsement, influencer program, video games… The number of media vehicles available not only have increased but their « quality » -or trustworthiness- vary greatly.

Graph of the evolution of media offer – based on a Perspective graph edited by Carat in 2008

Where ‘Message’ is the content that is transmitted.

Messages can take the form of news, educational content, stories, anecdotes, satires, propaganda, advertising, and so on…

What are the characteristics of Media?

  • Shelf-life: Each medium has a length of time impact: where an outdoor poster can stay up for a month to be seen 60 times by commuters. A social media post would have a few hours – if not minutes – of impact to be seen once by an audience.
  • Memorizing stickiness: Each vehicule needs a number of repetition before the message sticks, where 75% of cinema goers remember an ad in one shot, TV needs of 3 to 4 to reach the same.
  • Engagement: Each vehicle can instil specific action or response; like create curiosity, provoque a reaction, searching about a product, participating into a poll, keeping an information top of mind for a few hours, or just build trust.
  • Image: Each vehicle has a perceived image by the public: trustworthy, statutory, specialised, entertaining, the choice of media and so on..
  • Reach: Each medium has a particular capacity to reach an audience over a limited period on time.
  • Message complexity: Each vehicle carries a specific depth of details: where print permits long explanations, display ads allow only short headlines.

The combination of these characteristics plus the study of the audience to address is the basis for the media strategist to advise on the best vehicle to use for a specific communication objective.

Nowadays – with the fragmentation of media channels – it is sensible to involve the media agency into the creative process to ensure that the message is related in the relevant way for the environment.

This will be the topic in our next post, stay tuned.