Earlier this month, IAB Europe released its latest comprehensively updated ‘Guide to the Post-Third-Party Cookie Era’.
The Guide has been developed by experts from IAB Europe’s Programmatic Trading Committee and Post Third-Party Cookie Task Force. It provides the latest insights into the many alternative solutions that are being developed to replace third-party cookies when they are depleted in 2023, including context, identity, the use of telco data, and the Google Topics initiative, and expands into new challenge areas including measurement and attribution.
So, what is included in the latest guide and what do you need to know about the post third-party cookie world today?
We caught up with some of the members of IAB Europe’s Programmatic Trading Committee who contributed to the guide to share their thoughts and expertise.
Tanya Field, Co-Founder & CPO, Novatiq
Piper Heitzler, Head of Growth, EMEA, Amobee
Alex Berger, Senior Marketing Director, Buy-Side Products, Adform
Q1. Since the last updated version of the guide was released in February 2021, what changes have you seen, and what have been the biggest developments?
Piper - “Well, I’ll start with the obvious. On June 24th, 2021, the advertising and ad tech industries let out a sigh (of relief?) when Google announced a two-year delay in phasing out the third-party cookie phaseout. That shift in time frame has allowed the P3PC guide to evolve into a comprehensive mini textbook of the identity market, rather than being a short-term assessment of what marketers should do immediately. There’s been a ton of growth from existing and new players, which means marketers now have a buffet rather than a tasting menu to choose from; all of which are detailed in the guide.”
Alex - “When the guide was first written, there was a big open question pending over what the solution that replaced third-party cookies would be. That began to take shape in 2021, and now this year the industry has a series of functional and proven solutions which are well on their path to implementation. The focus and educational piece about how first-party IDs are perhaps the single biggest solution is a significant addition. There’s also great added clarity around key definitions surrounding things like different types of identity.”
Tanya - “Over the past year, the depreciation of cookies and Mobile Advertising IDs has gathered pace, and the first major impacts of this shift have been registered. One of the more significant news items in this respect include Google’s announcement that it will extend its Privacy Sandbox to its Android Advertising IDs. This is a significant blow to publishers, who are still reeling from Apple’s decision to make its Identifier for Advertisers opt-in. The latter’s move has already had significant consequences, causing a combined £315 million drop in market value for companies like Meta Platforms, Snap, Twitter, and Pinterest, which rely heavily on mobile advertising revenues. In this climate, IAB Europe’s Guide is more relevant than ever.”
Q2. What is your take on what the industry has developed over the last 12 months? Are we any closer to having solutions in place the end of 2023?
Piper - “In short, it’s been a year of extremes. On one end, the industry has developed even more proprietary platform experiences for investment teams – which is fragmenting the media buying experience to a nearly equal degree that consumers’ experience content across screens and platforms – but on the other, there’s been incredible collaboration between advertisers, data providers, DSPs, SSPs, and publishers to drive scale for cookieless ID solutions, which will ultimately allow the open internet to continue.
It’s safe to say that the media plans of tomorrow will require marketers to balance a world of walled gardens with independent ad tech stacks in order to drive combined performance and reach. And in general, having spent much time consulting agencies and brands over the past year(s), I am confident they are learning how to rebalance that pendulum swing more gracefully this time around.
Alex - “Absolutely. We’re now at a point where the leading tech providers have real, functional solutions live. There’s still a lot of functionality to be fleshed out, and key gaps to close/regulatory questions to navigate, etc. – but we’ve gone from the bleeding edge focusing on proof of concept, to a subset of industry leaders now being live with eg first-party ID solutions and fully operational while supporting scaled ad buys. At this point, there are also some fairly significant benefits for advertisers who choose to start embracing these solutions. Every advertiser should be asking their agency and adtech partners how to turn things on immediately, start testing, and come off the sidelines. There’s a temptation to sit and wait it out, but the time for that was 2021.”
Tanya - “As the depreciation of cookies gathers pace, the industry is responding with a range of options.
One of the biggest changes has been from Google, which has abandoned its Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) proposal in favour of Topics for ad tracking, which determines’ web users interests from their short-term browsing history.
We have also seen new players enter the market with authenticated ID solutions, and probabilistic IDs that use AI to stitch together signals from the bid stream. However, neither offers a silver bullet to the industry’s dilemma. Authenticated IDs do not address users on the anonymous web and so will be unable to deliver audiences at scale, while probabilistic IDs will become increasingly inaccurate as signals disappear from the bid stream.
There are a range of options on the table. The full picture is still emerging, and we have yet to hear plans from major players like Apple. What is clear is that the industry still requires a solution that delivers scale. This could be either an alternative ID solution that covers both the authenticated and anonymous web, or a platform that enables interoperability between a range of IDs.”
Q3. ID solutions continue to come to the fore, how can stakeholders best identify and select partners?
Piper - This may seem like a very tactical answer, and keep in mind that I come from a technical Solutions Engineering background, but a humble matrix. The Post Third-Party Cookie Guide provides a breadth of description about ID solutions, much of which may be out of scope for someone’s current day-to-day job, but given the monumental shift that the deprecation of third-party cookies brings, it’s ever more critical to simplify what the past, present and future look like for a brand’s marketing strategy.
To create the matrix: collect any and all solutions (and KPIs!) that your brand uses today. Bucket those by how you capture user data versus reach users, then outline how that practice works today, and finally what effects may change the status quo. With that information you can align solutions from the Post Third-Party Cookie guide to those sections, rank each tactic based on its potential business impact, voilà, now you have a prioritised testing framework.
Alex - “I see a huge amount of confusion, and rightly so, between different types of ID types, ID solutions, and their market coverage. It’s quite clear that there won’t be one universal ID that takes it all. Instead, we’ll see a wide range of first-party IDs across technology providers, geographies, and solutions. This was one of the reasons that Adform opted for an approach that is fully ID agnostic, builds our own platform-based solution, and focuses on integrating with a wide range of IDs. Each ID solution provides different strengths and use cases. So, the conversation to take is much more about what are the benefits of the ID, how does it fit your geographic or media blend, and how does it scale alongside other IDs in your tech stack? It’ll also be very important to cut through the hype and look at who can provide actual data and real live solutions that work in the chaotic and often challenging fragmented adtech landscape.”
Tanya - “There are a broad range of factors that stakeholders will need to consider. First, to be effective the ID needs to be dynamic and able to operate in real-time to reach people at the right moment. Second, they need to be privacy-assured, ideally with patented technology and proven applications. Third, the ID should be interoperable with others and easy to integrate with intelligence sources and the adtech ecosystem. Security is also key. Stakeholders should check that the ID can enable safe data activation at scale. Above all, it is important that consumers feel comfortable giving consent for their information to be used in the ID. Here, finding an ID that is supported by trusted third-party organisations such as telecoms operators will be crucial. These organisations will be guardians of consent and they hold the key to achieving scale.”
Q4. Measurement and attribution are key challenges that have been highlighted in the latest edition of the guide. How do you think it can be possible to deliver effective attribution in a post third-party cookie world?
Piper - “In many organisations, the path of least resistance is to evolve with a degrading framework – for example, ad server and website analytics reports that have weakened to only cookie-supported browsers – rather than overhaul a brand’s entire measurement practice. However, as the proverb goes, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now”, well, now is the best time to re-evaluate what, why and how you measure each KPI. It is absolutely possible to develop effective measurement practices – which lead to reasoned attribution frameworks – and in the Post Third-Party Cookie Guide, marketers can evaluate the various experimental designs, panel-based strategies, publisher partnerships, and advanced analytics they can use to do so.”
Alex - “Attribution moving forward requires a bit of a mentality shift. It will take a while to be as effective as it was under third-party cookies. However, attribution and measurement aren’t in nearly as bad a shape as was initially feared and as a lot of stand-alone point solutions want folks to believe. What is required are more robust technology solutions that have strong connections. What I think we’re seeing is a lot of sub-par quality measurement and attribution in the old setup getting cleaned up/wiped out. That’s being replaced by measurement and attribution that’s a bit more technologically complex, but which delivers higher quality IDs with superior longevity. It’s also opening new opportunities. I know for our part at Adform, we are focused on making it a simple process, and we’ve really been able to bring back measurement and attribution to things like Safari and Firefox due to first-party IDs and the unique nature of our technology. So, it’s definitely a challenging period, but also exciting.”
Tanya - “In my view, it is only possible to deliver measurement and attribution at scale with a dynamic ID that can be carried through the programmatic ecosystem and into execution, while also being used as a point of reference that ties back to an obfuscated, semi-persistent ID that is held elsewhere. This approach enables brands and publishers to map back to a single user without knowing who that user is. This approach is not theoretical - it is already deployed in several markets today.”
Q5. What are your predictions for the future and how do you see solutions developing over the next 12 months?
Piper - "On a macro scale, the ad tech industry is at an inflection point of many intersecting trends, all of which are underpinned by the concept of “privacy-compliant data access at scale” and rely on either pseudonymous or PII data points. So my predictions are: retail media networks will explode in Europe, streaming services will continue to multiply in number through ad-supported models, and large companies will go on an acquisition spree to gain access to first-party data. In addition, identity-based solutions will be expected to perform cross-domain reconciliation in order to drive value for marketers and cookieless IDs that don’t support data onboarding will be deprioritised by those that do.”
Alex - We'll continue to see a filtering effect. Right now, almost everyone is understandably quite confused by a wild-west in ID solutions, potential fixes, technologies that are still barely proof of concept but “launched”, technologies that are live and rapidly evolving, and folks trying to figure out how to run a third-party cookie dependent business once they’re gone. I think we’ll see major sources of uncertainty such as the regulatory consent component resolve with solutions and more clear-cut guidance being established. I also think we’ll see more consistency in terminology and deeper understanding of which technologies use IDs, which IDs have legs, as well as how they end up getting bundled and used effectively. We’ll also continue to see scale and adoption accelerate. At Adform, we’re already seeing about 80% of top 1,000 publishers in most European markets send first-party IDs. This means the capability is there, and the volumes are ramping up. That’s great news for Advertisers as they look to buy and use platforms and technology that helps them achieve those goals without getting locked into a single ID solution, the walled gardens – which I expect will continue to fracture - or stand alone third-party engineered solutions.
Tanya - “I have three predictions for the year ahead. First, all IDs will become interoperable to deliver an all-encompassing solution for the digital advertising ecosystem. Second, there will be new entrants into the ecosystem from vertical markets as companies with large sources of first-party intelligence provide the underpinnings of new types of ID. Finally, consumer needs will be at the heart of new IDs and there will be a clear focus on direct consent and consent management. This is because nothing works without consumers and consumer confidence. Securing trust must be the starting point for the post-cookie world.”