Ashwini Gangal

How can web publishers prepare for ‘Chrome-ageddon’?

How will Google's cookie policy impact web publishers? How will it shape programmatic buying and advertising?

How will Google’s decision to phase out third party cookies by 2023 affect programmatic media buying, advertising and web publishing? Privacy seems to be at odds with personalisation. Brand safety may come at the cost of scale. Without third party cookies, many advertisers – especially those that rely on the programmatic funnel to target users across the web – will have to find alternative ways to collect data about their consumers.

Arguably, it’s the smaller, niche publishers that will bear the brunt of this impending ‘cookie apocalypse’, versus the large, established, ‘bouquet publishers’; there's a counter-argument to this as well that says highly specialised sites will sail through this flux. So, the phasing out of third party cookies may just widen the gap between large and small publishers. Similarly, even among advertisers, it’s the longtail, comprising small companies, that stands to lose more than large brands.

Moreover, though Google’s FLOC – that is, Federated Learning of Cohorts, that will protect the data of individual users by pivoting, instead, to cluster level or aggregated targeting based on behavioural cohorts – is being positioned as a solution, it may increase the height of the proverbial wall around the garden and do little to help publishers and advertisers on the open web.

As Shubhranshu Singh, former global head – marketing, Royal Enfield, writes in a recent guest article on afaqs!, “Now, Google’s FLOC framework and Facebook’s Conversion API are intended to create a seamless experience between consumers and brands while respecting privacy. The difference is that smaller third party players will be weeded out and we will have eventually given even more control to these gigantic corporations. Depending on what you think of big tech companies, it may be a good or a bad thing.” Read more about Google’s Privacy Sandbox here.

Many web publishers have already begun the process of colleting their own, or first party, data, by asking users to log in or sign in with their email ids; some even ask for users’ mobile numbers and send an OTP. While this user, who has ‘opted in’ of her own volition, may become a more loyal consumer of that site down the line – and may even be easier to convert into a paying user at some point – there’s no denying the toll this process may take on her user experience. That's probably a trade off publishers have to live with. Besides, one has to log in before deciding whether the content is of value or not.

The good news is that publishers have until 2023 end to prepare. The web publishing ecosystem could use this time to invest in cookie-less AI, new types of data sources, build a consortium of ID providers (and eventually standardise the currency), create customer data platforms (CDPs) and consent management platforms (CMPs), and focus on contextual targeting and intent-based advertising.

Are web publishers ready for the 'Cookie Apocalypse'?

At afaqs!’s recently held e-conference Digipub Week, I moderated a panel discussion on the subject and learnt a great deal about how publishers are appraising this change.


Abhishek Nigam, COO, digital, Zee Media

Abhishek Upadhya, VP, digital innovation and strategy, HiveMinds (Madison)

Puneet Gupt, COO, Times Internet

Pankil Mehta, CBO, Alchemy Group

Puneet Singhvi, CEO - digital, and president - corporate strategy, Network18

Watch the full session here:

In sum, Google’s decision to phase out third party cookies may be inconvenient for the web publishing ecosystem, and advertisers that rely heavily on performance marketing/precision targeting, in the short term, but will give publishers the opportunity to create a direct relationship with their users, build communities, invest in first party data, sharpen their app strategy, cull out relevant data from hitherto overflowing pools, and re-look their tech departments, in the long term.

The 2nd edition of Digipub Week, an afaqs! conference, was held between September 27-29, 2021. Sponsors: Akamai (Powered By), AndBeyond.Media and Zee Digital (Associate Partners).

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