Unaddressed elephants, broken promises and why NOW. 4 observations from 2 months going all-in on privacy.

Luke Taplin-McCallum

Nov 23, 2023

Having spent the past 2 months all-in on privacy-enhancing technologies and cookieless strategies, I’ve engaged in all sorts of topics. Some extremely technical, some I’m astounded I wasn’t already aware of. I’ve summarised the universal headlines that may, or may not, be new news to some.

There’s a ginormous elephant no one’s addressing.

Cookieless seems to have faded from many agendas. Third-party cookies (TPC) are on their way out; we know it’s important, and we should probably do something about it… But it just hasn’t been that urgent. Of course Google’s continued delay in deprecation has been pertinent to that jaded sentiment; it may not even happen, and things will probably be fine, right? 

I was surprised to learn a whopping chunk of audiences are already unaddressable. Premium and valuable audiences across Safari on Apple devicws are already blocking TPCs by default, not to mention other browsers and ad blockers too.

Already up to 70% of users cannot be addressed. No targeting. No measurement. No nothing. I was astounded to learn this. As are most others I’ve been chatting to. 

We’ve been promised the world

I have been speaking with an impressive bunch of proactive folk who have been getting ahead, building cookieless frameworks and futureproofing their ad spend. But what a roller coaster it’s been.

In pursuit of that cookieless bullet, legacy tech has pivoted existing technologies in attempt to suit modern compliance and privacy regulation. There’s also been some new players around town - some been and gone - but it seems many don’t cut the mustard and many have been let down.

Performance is key here though. I don’t mean the placement of an ad on a likely suitable page based upon the semantic analysis… contextual placement… which we know can work well and rightly has it’s place. I’m instead nodding to the fading crucial pieces; cross-domain reach, frequency capping, measurement and retargeting. No one’s really cracked that.

Suddenly, walled gardens are looking more attractive than ever.

Unfortunately, it’s going to take more than we think

Actual compliance will probably require much more of an overhaul. And we’ll probably need to shift away from the liquid commodity that is user data in order to become compliant as defined by GDPR. Here’s some words from Anonymised Founder & CEO Mattia Fosci on exactly that. 

Just as some solutions do seem feasible, a tall grimacing shadow is cast over that teetering ray of promise. Take identity graphs for example, who stitch together a series of signals that promise identity resolution, thus reclaiming the ability to target or frequency cap. A side from discussion of compliance due to what signals are obtained, stiched and resultantly where this is passed, those signals are being turned off. Google just weeks ago turned off IP addresses

Another factor to consider is that the ICO has said it “will not accept proposals based on underlying ad tech concepts that replicate or seek to maintain the status quo.” This could potentially apply to solutions in this space, but it is not yet clear. You can find more on what the ICO has said here

The power of now

With Google deprecating in a few weeks, the problem is real and now is the time to take action. Of course I wanted to validate that, and asked for some second opinions from industry experts.

Luke Pay, Data & Tech consulting Director at Publicis Media argues that the testing window is closing, and that internal processes predicate timely engagement:

 “Testing is important now because there is only a small time frame in which you can test cookieless solutions versus cookie based, to ascertain what state you media spend will be in by next year.
The introduction of GDPR has impacted technology vendors who deal with data movement or processing. These vendors require comprehensive internal client onboarding process. It is essential to initiate conversations with them as soon as possible, ensuring that your organisation is well-prepared for the upcoming deprecation of third-party cookie “

With Google’s 1% deprecation of third-party cookies just weeks away, Archie Davies, Data, Digital and Tech Director at Starcom suggests that without an effective solution, consider your ad dollars lost.

Going Cookieless (3P) is like the story of Hansel and Gretle when their breadcrumb trail was eaten and they were lost to the forest. If you’ve not found an effective substitute to the 3rd Party cookie, be prepared to have your marketing lost to the forest.

To conclude, there is a business-critical problem that’s only getting worse. And we should approach this with an open mind as in line with the ICO and GDPR; long-lasting solutions should bring something new to the table. 

However audiences and ad spend are not lost. 

A mix of new technologies and legacy tech, alongside cookieless environments and lingering TPCs provide fertile grounds test. So start testing, measure against TPC’s, test how easy new solutions are to work with, and expand beyond Chrome. It’s crunch time. 

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