Cookie-apocalypse: how advertisers can stay ahead of the latest privacy changes

As consumers become increasingly aware of the value of their data, marketers must adapt to a more secure data strategy, or face losing up to a quarter of what they have collected.

Paula Gómez, Head of Data & Adtech at Making Science, explores some of the privacy-conscious tools that provide advanced analytical data, such as Google’s GA4 and other techniques including server-side tracking…

Advertisers are constantly having to adapt and keep abreast of privacy changes as the industry continues to travel a data-secure path. Keeping up with the latest news of developing privacy restrictions or moves from tech giants to adhere to guidance and pre-empt challenges will massively impact how marketers manage their data and run campaigns.

One driving force behind these changes is internet users, who are becoming increasingly aware of their cybersecurity,  with  more than four-fifths of customers concerned about their data privacy, and 78 percent concerned about the amount of data that is collected about them.

The constant flux in regulations and technological solutions to address privacy, such as Google’s recent decision to scrap FLoC for Topics, can disorient advertisers and put a stop to best-laid plans. But while the temptation may be strong for marketers to sit tight and wait for the dust to settle, the consequences of inaction could be serious. Creating solutions to navigate the new privacy landscape while being able to utilise data is of the utmost importance, so let’s explore how this can be achieved, and why standing still is not an option.

Stuck on a data-loss loop

Despite the ever-growing consumer concerns over the use of their data, customers want to see ads that are closely tailored to their interests – 58 percent of UK and US customers feel positively about receiving hyper-personalised ads.

Finding a solution to this contradiction is a pressing issue as those who fail to adopt a more secure data strategy could potentially lose 25 percent of the data they have collected. Publishers, in particular, would see huge impacts as a result of data-loss and could witness their revenue reduce by 50-70 percent if they fail to find a compliant approach to data management – accounting for an estimated $10billion in ad revenue.

In addition, while the growing value of first-party data insights will provide a major boost for larger and niche audience publishers, for those in the middle – too small to scale up their first-party audiences, but too large to outsource these tasks to a sales house – there is extra potential for a serious loss of revenue and potential collapse.

Despite the obvious danger being to those organisations holding and accessing first-party data, failure by them to address privacy solutions could see advertisers having far fewer behavioural and demographic insights at their disposal as a result.

For marketing managers, another concern associated with the significant loss of data will be on campaign measurement and efficiency. Without a suitable replacement for the ability to identify and monitor consumer behaviours, traditionally generated by third-party data, advertisers will be unable to track users throughout the sales funnel effectively and target potential audiences.

Luckily, there are a number of tools already at the disposal of marketers, while Google and other providers configure their own solutions .

How can marketers avoid the impact of lost data?

A true solution for marketers should successfully provide two attributes: firstly, it must allow for accurate targeting; secondly, and most importantly, it needs to be privacy safe.

Some frequently discussed techniques include AI-driven contextual targeting, executed by advanced machine learning technology, which takes a staggeringly sophisticated approach to sourcing suitable audiences for brands in proximity to contextually relevant content; also predictive analysis solutions, which use data to project future behaviours as a potential to overcome a lack of audience insights.

Walled gardens are another hotly-debated resolution for advertisers, already offering  access to safely derived customer insights, who themselves are also having to assess privacy compliance, as demonstrated by Meta’s recent rollout of its Privacy Center to users.

But for marketers examining their marketing and data strategies, what specific solutions are available to mitigate the impacts associated with the implications of developing privacy restrictions?  

Here are some of the current options for advertisers:

Google Topics

The newest offering from Google, a replacement for its original FloC solution, Topics aims to give greater control and transparency than its predecessor.  

While FLoC used a cohort-targeting method, generating a unique ID for each user – concerns were raised that users were still too easy to identify. Topics however is proposed to target based only on up to five signified ‘topics’ for a user, selected from their browsing interests in the previous recent weeks. Chrome users will also be able to disable the feature altogether if they wish.

Google Analytics 4

The latest iteration of Google Analytics, also known simply as GA4, has been bolstered with new functionalities that improve identification across devices and platforms. Advanced insights can be generated thanks to machine learning while staying compliant with privacy regulations.

Google Consent Mode

Google's Consent Mode allows Google tags – analytics and advertising – to adjust their behaviour based on user consent, sending information as usual if the user has consented, and sending a ping notification without the cookie information if the user has not consented.

A ‘URL Passthrough’ function can also be activated in Consent Mode, allowing the process of sending the click identifier in the URL, which means it can still be associated with a conversion in the absence of cookies.

Google Server to Server

Designed to send data from server to server in a privacy-secure way, this method uses a single tag which sends information to the server before data is filtered and strictly redirected as necessary to each platform, creating a secure data flow.

Facebook’s CAPI

Facebook’s Conversion API (CAPI) allows the online and offline actions of users to be sent securely from a proprietary server to Facebook’s server. Users’ actions – such as add-to-cart, buy or lead – are able to be tracked via the site, not via the browser, and this information is then sent to Facebook where suggestions on user preferences are drawn.

Some advertisers may feel abandoned by the tech giants in their pursuit for data privacy, but as more consumers become data conscious it is only right their demands for more safety and transparency are met. The increasing variety of tools available show the platforms are responding to consumer demands, while also trying to consider the advertising industry and find a workable solution.

The backlash to FLoC and its replacement with Topics shows that Google is still trialling options, and is willing to adjust its offerings if they are unsuitable. Marketers need to stay abreast of the latest developments as they plan their future, and combining the offerings of big tech alongside a focus on first-party data will provide the most thorough solution going forward.