Industry Leaders Sound Off As Google Delays Cookie Phase Out (Again)

Google postponed its plan to phase out third-party cookies from its popular Chrome browser late Tuesday, missing its end-of-year deadline (again) after facing increased scrutiny for its cookie alternative, Privacy Sandbox, from both advertisers and regulators. 

“We recognize that there are ongoing challenges related to reconciling divergent feedback from the industry, regulators and developers, and will continue to engage closely with the entire ecosystem,” Google said in a blog post yesterday, adding that it “will not complete third-party cookie deprecation during the second half of the fourth quarter,” or as it initially planned.

Google attributed its delay to allowing the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) — a regulatory body that enforces fair business practices and protects consumer interests — sufficient time to review its Privacy Sandbox solution.

The search giant’s backpedaling comes just eight months after stating it was “feeling very confident” about meeting its self-imposed deadline. Google has postponed phasing out cookies from its market-leading Chrome browser for the third time in four years; Chrome has a 65% global market share, and Apple’s Safari, already cookie-free, holds nearly 19%.

Now what?

Third-party cookies have historically played a significant role in the $600 billion industry that is digital advertising, serving as a “single source of truth” in areas such as ad targeting and measurement. Still, cookies have been criticized for their lack of privacy. Google’s setback now places marketers in a position where they must maintain a delicate balance between using outdated strategies while also investing for a cookie-less future that is TBD. 

Industry leaders are responding as Google adjusts its timeline. “This delay is obviously not without serious downsides,” Aaron Solomon, chief strategy officer at Amplify, tells The Outcome. “The uncertainty of when and how the change will finally happen makes it pretty much impossible for advertisers to accurately and strategically plan.” 

Others, meanwhile, are focusing on the broader implications of Google’s delay. Kristin Luck, managing partner at consultancy ScaleHouse, tells The Outcome that the extended postponement of phasing out Google's cookies has significant implications for both advertisers and the numerous solution providers developing ID-free alternatives. 

“For advertisers, the delays may necessitate changes in strategy or budgets, potentially disrupting the progress toward adopting cookie-free tracking solutions,” says Luck. “For solution providers, while some may benefit from additional development time, others with more advanced solutions might face new obstacles to scaling their operations or, in the worst cases, risk insolvency. Such outcomes could lead to further disruptions in the advertising ecosystem."

Others believe advertisers should look toward other identity solutions given Google’s track record with Privacy Sandbox. Mark D. Walker, CEO of Direct Digital Holdings, an ad tech holding group that includes both sell and buy-side operations, says publishers seem to be more prepared for cookie deprecation than advertisers on the buy side. “When you look specifically at advertisers, for the most part, it seems to be ‘business as usual,’ and so we don’t think there will be any significant impact with this delay announced by Google,” Walker says, “It may give some of them more time to evolve their post-cookie strategy, while others will continue in a “wait and see” pattern for Google’s next move.”

Some, however, believe Google’s postponement may ultimately hurt the industry. “The delay will likely cause advertisers to become more complacent in transitioning to a cookieless strategy,” Liberty Tsighis, founder at Liberty Interactive Marketing, tells The Outcome. “This results in brands lagging in adopting cookieless and privacy-sensitive targeting analytics, putting them at a disadvantage when cookie deprecation finally occurs.”

Looking Ahead

The future of digital advertising is poised for a seismic transformation whether Google meets its new deadline or not. Echoing Stein’s call for strategic adaptation, Brian Mandelbaum, co-founder and CEO of Attain, says the shift away from third-party cookies is not just a technical update, but a strategic pivot toward a more integrated, omnichannel approach. 

"There's no denying the end of third-party cookies is upon us — it’s inevitable,” Mandelbaum tells The Outcome. “The industry has recognized that cookies have their limitations, primarily tracking only online behaviors which didn’t capture the full spectrum of consumer interactions; although significant, online commerce only accounts for about 15% of total consumer spending.” 

The vast, untapped market of offline spending far exceeds that of online, adds Mandelbaum. “It remains largely unexplored by digital advertising,” he says. “Advertisers who are equipped with robust first-party data and comprehensive omni-channel strategies will be strongly positioned to fill this critical void.” 

Maikel O’Hanlon, senior VP of performance media and innovation at Horizon Media, tells The Outcome that Google’s delay should provide advertisers with some level of comfort. Advertisers “The sort of examinations that advertisers were beginning to undertake in earnest, which all of a sudden felt like they were compressed for time, can now continue to be sort of pursued in earnest with a bit more allowance that you're not going to reach the edge of the cliff feeling woefully unprepared,” says O’Hanlon, who adds that clients are now “asking questions that we were hoping they would ask.”

Natasha Tibbetts, VP of media at agency Swell Media, offers advertisers a more direct approach: “Ensure your vendor partners are already equipped with cookieless strategies and solutions,” she says. “And if you haven’t already, begin eliminating those that are not before the end of the year.”

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