“C” is for “cookie”… but “C” is also for “crime.” And this particular game of “CLUE” is a lot trickier to solve. No weapons, no bodies… just the premeditated murder of the third-party cookie. There are suspects, to be sure: Mr. Google. Madame Safari. Professor Chrome. And Ms. Firefox, to name a few. Each with motive and opportunity to off the defenseless third-party cookie. 

The real victims here, however, are the marketers and advertisers who relied on the third-party cookie to create highly customized and targeted digital ads across the web. So, what does that mean for you? We’ll dig deep into the clues to discover who killed the cookie, and how you and your brand can learn to live with the loss. 


The Third-Party Cookie: An Obituary

Cookies first hit our web browsers in the mid-90s, allowing websites to track the behaviors and interests of visitors (first-party cookies). These eventually evolved into third-party cookies, which can track users across websites and deliver retargeting ads that match their purchase intent. For instance, let’s say you’re looking for new running shoes. You visit the Brooks website and check out a pair, and then you surf over to Zappos, where you receive a branded Zappos ad for the exact same pair. That’s all thanks to a third-party cookie.

But while the third-party cookie has paved the way for marketers to effectively retarget web users by delivering the exact content they want, it has been much maligned over the years, due primarily to privacy concerns. The adoption of the GDPR in Europe meant that users had to opt-in and give express content for cookies to be utilized to track their information. This, in many ways, signaled the first death knell for the third-party cookie.


The Case of the Missing Cookie

As privacy issues grew, numerous browsers blocked third-party cookies. Both Firefox and Safari stopped supporting third-party cookies in 2013, responding to user demands for transparency and security around their personal information. Google’s Chrome browser, however, took a more cautious approach, citing concerns over “workarounds” that could potentially be even more intrusive. However, after their heyday in the mid-2010s, third-party cookies have been slowly vanishing from our browsers.

The Usual Suspects

The last man standing in this case is Google, and all clues point to the search engine powerhouse as causing the ultimate demise of the third-party cookie. After laying low for years, Google now says that Chrome will no longer support third-party cookies beginning in 2022. As Chrome captures 68% of all browser usage across the internet, you can assume this is the final nail in the coffin of the third-party cookie. 


An Open-and-Shut Case?

While death may feel pretty permanent, it isn’t the end of custom ad targeting. Marketers can expect to lose some capabilities, like tracking KPIs, tying conversions to specific campaigns, and understanding user behavior across sites. But, take heart, because there will still be options to collect data on the audience that matters most to your brand, including:

  • First-Party Cookies: The data you collect on your own site isn’t going anywhere. You’ll still be able to track and monitor user behavior across the pages you own, such as how often they visit, what they look at, and what actions they take. You can use this information to create an automated marketing strategy to keep your brand in front of consumers and meet their needs.
  • Privacy Sandbox: Google’s proposition to both users and advertisers is a privacy sandbox, which will utilize APIs to store private information within the Chrome browser. This will allow for the continuation of personalized ads, without compromising security. It’s anticipated that other browsers will adopt a similar sandbox approach.
  • Google Ads: By corralling user data into its privacy sandbox, Chrome will be able to leverage the growing power of Google Ads to create targeted messages without breaching privacy concerns. That’s great news for Google, but will land a pretty significant blow to third-party advertisers. However, if you haven’t yet utilized Google Ads to promote your brand, the time to start exploring the platform is now.


Guilty as Charged

The evidence all points to one perpetrator: Google killed the cookie. But life (and advertising) goes on, and marketers who embrace adaptation and innovation will find new ways to reach their audience with personalized, custom messaging wherever they are in the funnel. Here’s how to manage the stages of grief for the third-party cookie:

  • Drop the denial. This is happening, like it or not. Now that you know the third-party cookie is a goner, you can begin to shift your digital marketing efforts.Read up on what these changes may mean for your brand, and be aware of evolving regulations.
  • Comply with all privacy laws. If you do business with EU residents, you’ll need to make sure everything you do is line with GDPR regulations.
  • Leverage first-party data. Capturing and utilizing the information that’s available to you from the site or sites you own will ease your transition into advertising without the aid of third-party cookies. Consider options like contextual targeting and PPC campaigns. 


So, the case is solved and the killer has been outed. Will there be justice for the third-party cookie? Likely not. But for the survivors, there is hope and help in finding new ways to target ads and reach consumers. Contact us today to discuss your strategy for dealing with the death of the third-party cookie, and find out how we can help.

Keyon Whiteside headshot

Written by Keyon Whiteside

“If I can put the car in the ditch, I can get the car out of the ditch.”