Preparing for a Cookie-Less World

What’s happening? A recap

3rd party cookies have been the backbone of how the digital marketing industry has developed and functioned over the past 25 years. They are set by 'third party' ad tech companies to allow a user’s online journey to be tracked over multiple sites; to learn more about their online profile and interests as well as track their behaviour.

In January 2020 Google announced they were planning to sunset 3rd Party cookies in the Chrome browser by 2022.

Whilst Google are by no means the first tech company to make moves into creating a more privacy centric internet, with approx. 63% browser market share, this move is without a doubt the most significant. It signals the end of the third-party cookie.

Why is this happening?

Growing user concerns and changed expectations over privacy in recent years have forced significant changes in 2 key areas:

1) Laws & Regulations:
New rules relating to how data is collected and processed were introduced first in Europe with GDPR (2018) and then in California with CCPA (2020). GDPR was the first to recognise the cookie as personal data.

2) The Digital Landscape:
Google was not the first to limit or discontinue the use of 3rd Party Cookies. For privacy reasons, other key browsers including Firefox (using ETP in 2018) and Safari (using ITP in 2019) have also limited the use and storage length of 3rd party cookies.

In addition, in 2021 Apple has taken this even further by announcing that its iOS14 update will include 'App Tracking Transparency (ATT)' that will mean users will be asked by default for permission to track their IDFA identifier for cross-property ad targeting purposes. This will significantly limit app tracking capabilities, much to the annoyance (putting It lightly) of Facebook.

It’s also worth mentioning that the cookie was invented 25 years ago! It’s ability in the modern age of the internet to accurately track user activity across multiple devices and platforms has become increasingly limited, especially with the increase in use of privacy tools like ad blockers. It’s time for change!

What does this mean for digital marketing?

Some channels (e.g. programmatic display) will be more affected than others but the whole industry is about to experience a seismic shift. Whilst the full effects are being debated, and new solutions offered, examples of areas that are likely to be affected include:

 Multi Touch and View Through Attribution


 Targeting using 3rd party data sources

 Tracking of ad frequency

 Ability to use sequential creative

 Ad personalisation

Instead of relying on 3rd party data, the advertisers that learn to track, segment, and activate their 1st Party Data will lead the pack. 1st party data will be king in the new era of the of the internet.

Inevitably the big ad-tech companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon) with their walled gardens of logged in users will be least affected and no doubt advertisers will likely be further pushed to using their data that simply won’t be available elsewhere. These companies also have the scale to ensure that measurement alternatives using modelling will be highly accurate.

Targeting methods that are not reliant on 3rd party cookies like contextual targeting & publisher direct buying (e.g. PMPs etc) will become more widely used. Likewise, channels already less reliant on cookies will flourish e.g. Connected TV.

Finally, the way we track, target and measure performance will change significantly. New privacy first measurement/targeting solutions are being put forward daily and it is the responsibility of all digital marketers to stay up to date and be part of the conversation. Some examples of these solutions include:

Google Privacy Sandbox:

This is Google Chrome's proposed replacement to 3rd party cookies. It contains several solutions that cover everything from ad fraud to audience targeting in a privacy centric way. An example of this is FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) that allows interest-based targeting by clustering large groups of people with similar interests (rather than targeting individual users).

Unified ID:

A partnership between key ad tech players (incl. Tradedesk, LiveRamp, Criteo & Nielsen) that aims to use encrypted and hashed email addresses to create a standardised identity replacement for 3rd party cookies. Scale is potentially an issue with this solution.

Data Clean Rooms

These cloud-based solutions are secure places where walled gardens can share event level data with marketers to link their proprietary data to enable campaign/audience analysis. An example of this is Google's Ads Data Hub (ADH).

Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Whilst not set up solely as a solution to 3rd party cookies, Google has recently launched GA4 which adds a layer of AI to fill in any gaps in measurement via modelling.


Device fingerprinting is a methodology that looks at a device or browser setup to determine an individual user e.g. operating systems, language setting, IP address etc. Those against this argue that it is a workaround rather than a solution to creating a more privacy centric Internet.

Key Point:

Regardless of which solutions dominate in the coming years, digital marketers need to start changing their mindset to understand that we are moving from a precision to a predictive era. Measurement and targeting will be moving to become based more on 'predictive models' and less about absolutes. It also likely that digital marketers will need to use several solutions depending on the channel/platform and requirement.

What are we doing at Tug?

Right now, there are a lot of unknowns as to what direction the ad tech space will be going. The wind changes daily as the key players in the ad tech space debate the best way to replace cookies. But that does not mean we can wait for answers. Over the coming months we will be proactively contributing to the conversation and getting our clients ready for a cookie-less world.

5 key tasks we will be doing internally are:

1) Creation of the 'Tug Cookie-less Future Steering Committee' to navigate the year and help advise clients and teams.

2) Media Review:
How might your current media plan need to change?
• How are you currently targeting?
• What % of media involves 3rd party cookies?
• Do we need to shift media to channels with more 1st party data?
• Will we be able to access the 1st party data we need to run the media plan that is best for your company goals?

3) Measurement Review:
Do we need to change how we are measuring success?
• Are you currently reliant on multi-touch attribution?
• Will this model still work?
• Are you using view through conversions?

4) Mar-tech Setup Review:
Is your tech stack ready?
• Is GA4 setup?
• Are you using GTM and Global Site Tags?
• Are you using GTM's conversion linker tag?

5) Partnerships Audit:
• Are the publishers and platforms we partner with ready for the change?
• How are they using data?
• How do they collect data?

What should you (as brand/client) be thinking about?
In the coming months Tug will be discussing our audit findings with you and helping you through the entire process to make sure you are as ready as possible. However, in the meantime, there are some important things to be thinking about.

The key is to recognise the growing importance of 1st party data.

What should you (as brand/client) be thinking about?

In the coming months Tug will be discussing our audit findings with you and helping you through the entire process to make sure you are as ready as possible. However, in the meantime, there are some important things to be thinking about.

The key is to recognise the growing importance of 1st party data.

1) How can you build your 1st party data?

Look for ways that you can collect 1st party data that is both beneficial to you and the user. Users are much more willing to sign up, login or leave an email if there is a value exchange and you are ultra-transparent on what that exchange is. For example, will a user get a discount if they sign in? What do they get for signing up to a newsletter? Is there a loyalty programme? Do you have an app (with SDK tracking)?

In return you get to learn more about your customers than any other partner can tell you! You can also activate data using methods like 'customer match' on Google Ads.

Of course, you need to ensure your privacy policy is up to date, easy to read and easily accessible.

2) Think about how you are storing and organising 1st party data

Owning and storing consented 1st party data in a secure place is only one piece of the puzzle. The goal is being able to organise, match and activate all your data. Think about how you are storing the data and whether you need to invest in mar-tech to help you organise, analyse, and activate it (e.g. with Big Query, a CRM, or a CDP).

3) Stay up to date and make sure your colleagues and direct reports are ready for the change

This change will affect everyone that runs any kind of digital advertising.

Whilst it's important you stay up to date with the topic and latest discussions, it is also vital that those around you understand too. As explained, media plans will transform and what is currently possible in terms of targeting and measurement, may not be possible in 2022.

But, be patient, the year will likely have many twists and turns, and potential solutions and viewpoints change daily.

Tug Final Thoughts

Whilst this next year will likely be full of fierce debate on the correct route forward, it is a time to be optimistic about the future of digital marketing. Rather than look at these changes as a hindrance that we need to find a workaround for, we should embrace this opportunity to find a solution more suited to today’s needs.

This is chance to be part of a complete facelift of the way the internet is consumed and monetised.

Ultimately the goal with these changes is to replace a no-longer reliable, or fit for purpose, tracking method with something that will be better for users, publishers and advertisers and help recover some of the trust that dissipated over the past 5+ years.