Transitioning to a Post Third-Party Cookie Era – Q&A with Experts from the Programmatic Trading Committee

For the last 25 years, Marketers have relied on third-party cookies to track consumer behaviour online. Nearly all AdTech and MarTech platforms use cookies for targeting, retargeting, display advertising, and behavioral marketing in general. 

But now, that’s all changing.

Smart cookie-blocking technology led by Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) and Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) now block third-party cookies by default.

2020 then kicked off with Google announcing that it intended to change the way ads are targeted online. Its goal of making third-party cookies “obsolete” by 2022 subsequently brought about one of the most significant shifts for the online advertising industry.

Now one year on, there is still much debate around how the ‘post-cookie era’ will affect future business models in the digital advertising industry and what alternative solutions are being developed.

IAB Europe released a guide back in May 2020 to help brands, agencies, publishers and tech intermediaries navigate the shifting landscape. As solutions have evolved over the last twelve months, the Guide to the Post Third-Party Cookie Era has been updated to provide the most up-to-date guidance. 

We caught up with some of the contributors of the guide to find out what the biggest developments are to date, to understand what the market alternatives to third-party cookies are, and what the future holds for a post-third party cookie world. 

Q1. Since the first guide was released in May 2020, what changes have you seen, and what have been the biggest developments?

“Some of the most significant changes have come via Prebid.org with the launch of SharedID.org as an open-source, public first-party ID and the assumption of the PubCommon identifier, folded into the SharedID footprint.

Apart from Prebid.org, there continues to be significant movement within the W3C groups debating Google Chrome’s Privacy Sandbox proposals. Several AdTech companies have contributed counter-or-complimentary Sandbox proposals, all of which have been discussed at length within the W3C. Among these proposals, the acknowledgment on Google’s part of the necessity of a server-side trusted third-party entity within the Sandbox environment is most notable, as this is a meaningful departure from the original tenor of the Sandbox proposals.

The recent announcement of the Fledge testing framework for TURTLEDOVE is being followed with great interest by all stakeholders.” Garrett McGrath, Vice President of Product Management, Magnite 

“We’ve really seen an acceleration of so many of the topics discussed in the guide, most notably the introduction of authentication-based solutions like Unified ID 2.0. These solutions will be absolutely critical in helping publishers monetise while continuing to drive results for advertisers in a post-cookie world. 

Google also made a recent announcement highlighting their response to other industry efforts to replace the third-party cookie. The announcement certainly has a direct effect on every aspect of the advertising ecosystem, but our primary focus remains to ensure that whatever replaces the third-party cookie improves consumers’ privacy protections.” Sara Vincent, Senior Director of Strategic Partner Development, Index Exchange 

Q2. In the new edition of the guide, the number of solutions to the third-party cookie has quadrupled. What is your take on what the industry has developed over the last six months? Are we any closer to having it all figured out by 2022?

“While it is certainly true that the time is now to be actively building and testing solutions for a third-party cookieless future, I think it is important to note that we don’t view January 2022 as a drop-dead moment in time.  

That being said, we’ve certainly seen an explosion in the number of “universal” ID solutions.  Many are purpose-built for specific demand, some address authentication, some certain regional attitudes, and many are attempting to simply be a cookie replacement. Overall we believe that identity in the new internet should be a community asset, completely open and transparent, and not run by a for-profit entity.  

By 2022 and beyond we’ll no doubt have a (hopefully relatively small) variety of solutions that collectively should address authenticated users, non-authenticated/first-party identifiers, and the eventual production inputs from the Privacy Sandbox proposals.” Garrett McGrath, Vice President of Product Management, Magnite 

While it is certainly going to take a lot of work and industry-wide collaboration, I do think the industry will eventually be prepared for a world without third-party cookies as it continues to prioritise addressability, measurement, and consumer privacy. We know there is not going to be a singular, catch-all solution for successful monetisation in a post-cookie world, but I’m encouraged by the general direction of the industry and the solutions that have emerged to date. Sara Vincent, Senior Director of Strategic Partner Development, Index Exchange

“In recent months we’ve seen a wave of innovation as the industry has looked to build new Unified ID solutions to make up for the loss of third-party cookies. However, the issue remains that outside of first-party cookies there hasn’t been a viable solution for the non-authenticated, “open” web.

I think many in the industry will look to telcos as a solution to this challenge, as telcos’ networks provide a rich source of information that publishers can use to verify their users securely and safely. Enabling first-party identifiers that are verified on a per publisher basis in this way will strengthen the case for them to be used as a long-term replacement to third-party cookies. 

However, it is important that data is not then distributed down the bidstream and tied to session-based identifiers, as doing so would only lead to exponential data growth or the survival of the fittest. It’s therefore important for first-party data holders to agree on a dynamic ID for data activation. This would address the challenge of scale by enabling a standardised taxonomy across publishers that are activated on a per-publisher basis.” Tanya Field, CPO, Novatiq

Q3. There has been an influx of ID solutions coming to the fore, how can stakeholders identify and select partners?

“Identifiers need actual adoption by buy-side platforms; the degree to which this is true today varies greatly. Publishers should focus on how identifiers are generated and what level of control they have over them, with a special note to pay attention to the use of fingerprinting as not acceptable, i.e. the use of browser/device signals to infer linkages between first-party identifiers.” Garrett McGrath, Vice President of Product Management, Magnite 

“Since thriving in a post-cookie world is going to require a multi-pronged strategy, publishers should be asking themselves who are the buyers that they trust and what are the Identity solutions and partners they’re leveraging.

Publishers have to understand what works for them, what works for their readers and users, and then experiment with different ways to earn their audience’s trust and obtain consent and authentication from there. They must think about the various touchpoints for their audience — newsletter subscriptions, comment pages, etc. — and think about how they can use this information in a way that’s going to resonate with and benefit the end-user.” Sara Vincent, Senior Director of Strategic Partner Development, Index Exchange

“There are a growing number of IDs on the market. My view is that no one solution will offer a panacea to the digital advertising industry’s needs. Rather, it is likely that the industry will coalesce around a mix of solutions that will jointly provide the capabilities publishers and brands require ahead of the 2022 deadline.

In my view, it’s likely that first-party IDs, owned and maintained by publishers, will emerge as the primary means for achieving audience addressability at scale, with Unified IDs playing a significant role in measurement, attribution and other areas of the value chain. First-party IDs make sense for audience addressability because they give publishers complete control of their data and consent management. This data can then be activated using a transient ID in collaboration with telco partners that ensures no data is distributed in the bidstream.

Stakeholders realise that the writing is on the wall for browser-based or device-based signals, as the expectation is that anti-fingerprinting measures will increase. Verification seems the right path forward as it’s highly secure, consent-driven and pseudonymised. As a key part of a broader ID ecosystem it will have an important role to play.” Tanya Field, CPO, Novatiq  

Q4. In terms of contextual solutions, what developments and adoptions are we seeing in this space?

“There are a number of interesting developments that can be seen with contextual targeting capabilities. There is now the ability to use data integrated into programmatic buying platforms to not only avoid bidding on fraudulent impressions and target more viewable impressions but also to avoid unsuitable content and target towards brand suitable content. Contextual targeting allows advertisers to reach their desired audience without the use of third-party cookies.  

Contextual targeting will achieve scale for advertisers in 2021. We are already seeing a pick-up in the adoption of contextual targeting as it does not require any heavy underlying tech on the DSP or Publisher side. 

The technology relies on sentiment and emotion analysis done by ML/AI and is also independent of audience tracking data such as cookies. Hence, it allows a smooth and easy transition while still being effective on ROI of campaigns and aligned to brand safety & suitability priorities.” Nick Welch, Programmatic Director, Northern Europe, Integral Ad Science

“In the last year, there have been many developments when it comes to context, transforming it from its more traditional form based on keyword relationship to more advanced solutions for targeting purposes. For example, we’re quite excited about video content recognition which opens an even broader landscape of targetable inventory. On top of that, there is definitely more maturity when it comes to marrying both contextual and measurement technologies, or what some people call contextual analytics. In many cases, this convergence can lead to new discoveries – such as insights that uncover surprising contextual environments that ultimately deliver performance compared to the more obvious, standard segments. This combination offers a fertile ground for strategies for both prospecting and conversions.” Carlotta Zorzi, Enterprise Brand Partnerships, Oracle Data Cloud

Q5. What are your predictions for the future and how do you see solutions developing over the next 12 months?

“While the transition period will no doubt be a little rocky, we should focus on the truly unique opportunity to re-make not only our industry but the entire internet into a more effective, privacy-forward, and most especially user-centric system. These changes should be seen as a very positive opportunity.” Garrett McGrath, Vice President of Product Management, Magnite 

“I think we’re going to continue to see the rise of a few prominent solutions that buyers and publishers have been willingly testing in recent months. I’m hopeful that we’re also going to see greater collaboration across the board, as well as industry adoption of authentication-based solutions.” Sara Vincent, Senior Director of Strategic Partner Development, Index Exchange

“Looking to the year ahead, the industry needs to focus on the resurgence of publishers – and that means cracking the delivery of first-party data to the ecosystem. I believe this need will drive engagement by telcos to help deliver a verified ID solution. Telcos have the network view to enable cross-device audiences on the open web, and have every reason for wanting to take part, given the significant benefits that would accrue to both the industry and their businesses through offering such services.”  Tanya Field, CPO, Novatiq

There’s a learning curve as the industry moves away from cookie-based solutions, which we see as an opportunity for us all to refocus on what matters – trust and transparency. As we move forward, we believe contextual solutions play a crucial role in a diversified portfolio approach to consumer-centric identity. Education and cooperation, like the IAB Whitepaper on Understanding the Post-Third Party Cookie World, are crucial to achieving our key goals:

  1. Brands getting the most for their marketing dollars;
  2. Publishers having the tools to operate in a way that allows them to optimise their inventory efficiently and
  3. Users getting the best possible experience when it comes to advertising.

In general, when it comes to context we want to encourage everyone to be curious and ask questions. The context-focused industry is growing rapidly so it’s the perfect time to have these conversations with platforms partners. There is a rich future for cookieless solutions and we believe that EMEA will lead the way”.  Carlotta Zorzi, Enterprise Brand Partnerships, Oracle Data Cloud

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