Cookiepocalypse on Pause

Like millions of Americans’ post-pandemic weight-loss plans, the end of cookies has been put off until late 2023.

The news that Google was delaying its planned depreciation of cookies by more than a year reverberated across the ad industry rapidly this past week. Many had predicted it, but the abruptness may still have been shocking to some, given all the Cookiepocalypse literature that has been produced over the past few months — not to mention the fact that rival Apple had already kicked off its ad targeting killer by making IDFA opt in, and so far, the world hasn’t ended. Still, the digital advertising system as we know it is going to change, which makes the preparatory work of industry groups and key players all the more important.

Don’t be evil — or don’t get caught

What’s behind the delay? CafeMedia immediately jumped in with analysis, and the thinking is that Google actually listened to the broader web ecosystem and realized that so many companies that rely on cookies to do business need more time. After all, similar delays have been enacted when Google heard from various constituents that aspects of its Privacy Sandbox initiative needed tweaking.

“Google ultimately decided to delay this transition to protect publishers’ business models,” wrote our own Chief Strategy Officer, Paul Bannister.

There’s a more cynical take out there, however. As we mentioned a few weeks back, Google has gotten heat over its digital marketing dominance from regulators and lawmakers who don’t like how much data the company collects on users. So in many people’s eyes, getting rid of cookies was a way for Google to demonstrate it was happy to ease up on tracking people.

Which sounds noble in theory — who doesn’t want better protections for consumers? The problem is that it’s becoming increasingly clear to many in the industry and in DC that by eliminating cookies and mobile tracking, more consumer data and power could end up in the hands of two of the world’s most powerful companies, Google and Apple. Meanwhile, the rest of the publishing industry could be in danger of losing even more clout.

That seems to be what’s motivating regulators in the UK. The country’s Competition and Markets Authority recently said it wanted a say in how Google planned to phase out cookies, as worries were growing that the move would hurt media companies’ businesses. That’s been a growing fear in the industry — that Google’s move is ostensibly aimed at helping consumers but will ultimately create even more advantages for the walled gardens over the open web. “It’s critical that the replacement technologies get things right,” Bannister told The Wall Street Journal. “It’s also critical to make sure that even more money doesn’t go to the tech giants in the process.”

Now, despite long preaching that alternatives like FLoC would be good for the entire digital ad industry, it seems as though the UK regulators got to the folks at Mountain View, per Variety.

This move by UK regulators may give some whiplash, given how close FLoC was to being rolled out just a few weeks ago, reported TechCrunch. In the meantime, Google has invited industry feedback regarding the CMA inquiry into the Privacy Sandbox, with a deadline of July 8 at 5 pm.

Lots of questions

So what happens next? Two years may feel like a long time, given how much we’ve all been talking about the slew of changes hitting digital marketing. But if your business has relied on this form of tracking for years, you need all the time you can get to prepare.

In the near term, there are so many questions. Are things still full steam ahead for Sandbox, and FLoC testing, for example? Will marketers still fixate on first-party (and the startups promising better uses of first-party data?)? What happens to UID? Does it lose momentum?

What about consumers? Were they considered?

“I’m pissed. I don’t know if every brand is pissed, but I’m pissed,” said Jonathan Halvorson, VP, consumer experience, Mondeléz in Ad Age. “[Marketers are] losing time. Consumers are losing trust in the industry, so why are we continuing with this?”

Ok then.

Still, others were cheering the move, including some who wanted more testing for alternatives. And one group was clearly celebrating…

Party like it’s 2017

Investors clearly enjoyed the cookie news, as adtech companies like The Trade Desk, Magnite, Criteo and others saw an immediate stock pop upon the announcement, reported CNBC. Whether this reaction makes sense is up for debate, but it’s natural to wonder, does this mean we’re going back to a retargeting free-for-all? Instead of working on solutions, is this more like finding out the wedding band is going to play an extra hour, so you decide to keep dancing and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow?

Maybe so, but consumers shift toward mobile and CTV consumption isn’t changing regardless. And cookies are mostly a non-factor in those environments.

Needless to say, there is a lot more to unpack here. And the near-term future of digital intent is far from clear.

That’s it for this week…see you next time.