There’s a revolution brewing that speaks directly to issues of online privacy. You might have heard something about it if you’ve been following privacy concerns and legislation such as the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Online privacy has always been a concern. But the rise in tracking, hacking, and trading of sensitive information, and better educated consumers means we need changes. Big Tech is making changes that may benefit individuals, but they will also directly impact digital marketing campaigns. It all begins with a cookie.

Tracking You Across Websites

A cookie is a small file that’s stored on your computer when you visit a website. The information in the file on your computer can only be read by the domain that issued the cookie. So if you visit, we can only read our cookie, not any issued by any other website. Third-party cookies are those that are issued by a website other than the one you’re currently visiting. (Helpful tip: there are no third-party cookies on our website!) Advertisers, social media sites, and others can place third-party cookies on your computer when you visit a website that allows them. The purpose of the third-party cookie is to track your behavior (which websites you visit) when you’re online and not on the third party’s website.

It’s happened to all of us. We’ve spent time researching a new purchase by visiting retail websites, then we log onto our Facebook account for a little relaxation. As you’re scrolling, you suddenly notice promoted posts from retailers selling that thing you were researching. Or maybe you were window shopping at an online jewelry retailer, and the next time you check your Yahoo! email, you’re seeing jewelry ads for the same rings you browsed yesterday. That’s the power of a third-party cookie. Their products stay in front of you and help keep a brand top-of-mind. More importantly, the brand is reaping information about you such as your gender, age, origin, and user behavior data. That data makes third-party cookies a powerful tool for personalized marketing.

Disrupting the Marketplace

Google announced in 2020 that it plans to block third-party cookies for its Chrome browser in 2022.  As with many of its decisions, Google cast this move as a privacy-preserving strategy. The truth is more complex.

Google created the Privacy Sandbox initiative, with the goal to deliver a viable web technology that protects your online privacy. At the same time, they’re focused on giving digital businesses the tools to shift from individuals to profiling composite groups of people with similar interests. Google is not alone in taking a stand against third-party cookies. Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari browser have stopped supporting them. But Google’s Chrome browser has captured nearly half of the market share in the US and 2.65 billion users globally.

The Privacy Sandbox initiative is cloaked in privacy concerns. If it’s successful (we have no reason to believe it won’t be), it will give the tech behemoth another major advantage over the rest of its competitors. To call it disruptive is an understatement.

The Future is Now

Once third-party cookies go the way of the dodo, the way you approach your digital ad campaigns has to change. Google insists  the new cohort profiling is 95% as effective as current targeting. However, the jury is out until it’s been put to the test. What we do know is the cohort system is likely to mirror the type of profiling Facebook has been using for years. And that’s not as simple as Google suggests.

Advertisers get a better return on their efforts when they precisely target a given audience. The Privacy Sandbox documents suggest internet users will be part of large cohorts so individual information and identity remains unknowable. But as we have seen, there are ways around that, like the ability to exclude users on the basis of race or age.

Individuals not Cohorts

At the end of the day, all we really know is that digital ad tactics are going to change. Google will likely have a bigger slice of the ad revenue pie, and users will have to adjust to Google’s chosen playing field.

In researching and writing this piece, I was struck by the choice of example presented in a recent article on Think with Google. The example’s headline was, “Advertise to large groups, not individuals.” For Sabal Group, this is the inverse to smart senior living marketing. We firmly believe that successful marketing speaks to the individual, not to the masses.

If you’d like to know more about how Sabal Group can customize your marketing approach, I’d love the chance to speak with you and discuss your needs. Let’s not wait for Google!