Advertisers could shift cookieless test budgets and approaches in light of Google cookie extension

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Google’s deadline extension for ending the third-party cookie gives advertisers time to take a breather, but their agency partners still expect them to continue testing cookie-free alternatives for tracking, targeting and measuring ads. And while Google’s decision already has agency execs mulling the possibilities the longer runway enables as advertisers gear up for eventual take-off sans cookies, some expect a shift in testing budgets.

For clients of Marilois Snowman, the founder and CEO of independent media planning and buying agency Mediastruction, Google’s decision to continue supporting third-party cookies in its Chrome browser until the end of 2023 could mean pulling back the amount of money they have allocated to testing cookieless targeting approaches.

“You might have put 30% or 50% of your budget against it, but today you might say, oh — whoosh — we can maybe do 10%,” she said. “[Clients will] probably maintain lower percentages of budget for testing because we have another two years.”

However, she said while testing budgets might decrease in the near term, conscientious agencies and marketers should continue testing plans because they will help establish benchmarks to gauge what to expect when third-party cookie targeting ends once and for all. The added time gives advertisers and agencies the ability to “really start to understand what those real-time metrics are going to be and “maybe even build models around these results,” said Snowman.

Altered budgets could affect publishers, of course. That’s just the sort of thing people like Nicole Lesko, Meredith Digital’s COO and data strategyworry about when pondering Google’s deadline extension. The additional time “should help publishers maintain CPM stability and quell some of the more immediate concerns around readiness,” she said. However, Lesko added, “We risk losing momentum if players in the ecosystem view this as an opportunity to re-prioritize or shift focus.”

Real world control groups

Publishers and advertisers were already reeling from Apple’s own disruption to tracking and targeting capabilities brought on by giving people more privacy controls in its recent operating system updates. Google’s extension will allow for testing in real-world control group environments enabled by the distinctions between Apple audiences and those still reachable via third-party cookies or other cookie alternatives that aren’t available through Apple, according to Nii Ahene, chief strategy officer at Tinuiti, which manages ad campaigns on Google and other platforms. “This gives [advertisers] more time to look at the impact on Apple devices, on Safari, on iPhones,” he said.

Justin Scarborough, programmatic director at independent ad agency PMGsaid that with more time, advertisers now will have an opportunity to measure effectiveness of approaches for targeting people using Apple mobile devices and its Safari desktop browser in comparison to other targeting methods.

However, because advertisers need to prepare for a time when cookies finally do go away, they need to make sure that they are indeed testing technologies that really do reach people without cookies as opposed to testing technologies that only promise to do that down the road. For instance, he said, when alternate identifier tech providers say they still need cookies to reach a large enough audience, “it’s almost a non-starter at that point,” he said.

Rather than distinguishing between Apple and non-Apple audiences, Snowman said she has been creating custom control groups to test approaches that don’t require cookies or behavioral targeting. For example, she said she has a client that is testing targeting based on aggregated search and geographic data showing how searches for certain product keywords over-index in specific, narrow geographic areas. “To be smart and scientific about it, you create your own control group, and you have a savvy marketer client who says, ‘I’m OK to segment out a portion of my budget for this testing.'”

Extra time aside, Ahene said he fears that the buffer Google has now given could result in complacency despite what he sees as a need for marketers to continue testing cookieless techniques. “My worry is that brands are just going to keep continuing doing what they have done in the past,” he said. “That’s probably most likely going to happen because that’s just the way the industry works.”

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