On 24 June, Google announced a delay in its plans to fully deprecate the application of third-party cookies for marketing purposes. What does this mean for data complacency? The new timeline places the deadline in late 2023.

And the ad tech industry rejoiced.

Some Demand Side Platforms saw their stock prices jump 15% when the news of the delay broke. Third-party audience data sellers and data management platforms breathed a collective sigh of relief. And many marketers immediately put the topic on the back burner.

But where one tech goliath offers a reprieve, the other snatches its hand away. In case you missed it, in early June, Apple announced even more aggressive privacy-enhancing solutions for its devices, including:

  • IP Address masking with natively integrated, VPN-like technologies
  • Blocking of trackers embedded in emails which allow senders to know if you read their email newsletters.
  • Burner email addresses. Apple’s email client will allow a user to generate a randomized email address to provide to a website, online retailer, or newsletter, say, thereby preventing the recipient from ever getting the user’s “real” email address
  • Cross-site tracking reporting. Safari’s new Privacy Report provides a beautiful interface for users to see how Apple’s ITP has blocked trackers from monitoring the user’s behavior across sites

In the press of an ‘update’ button and a puff of smoke, Apple will take away the two most valuable data points for digital ad targeting – IP Address and Email Address – in their new operating systems, iOS 15 and macOS 12 – Monterey.

And these changes are due to go live much, much sooner. In September. 2021 – not 2023.

(Just to be sure we are all on the same page, this impacts all parts of the digital campaign life cycle for targeting those with Apple hardware, including planning, strategy, activation, targeting, and perhaps most importantly – measurement.)

So with Google decelerating on the one hand and Apple accelerating on the other, now is not the time to be complacent or leave this challenge to be solved another day. These changes will overhaul the 25-year-old foundations that digital media advertising has been built on and marketers need to prepare for the fact that personalisation, addressability and measurement may not resemble what it does today. They should continue to invest time and effort into finding alternatives to the cookie-based solutions. And for those that are yet to start down this path, the time is now.

The very first thing all brands should do is assess their exposure and risk. Brands need to quantify exactly how dependent they are on cookies and third-party data.  Within large portfolio companies, there will be a mix of high- vs low-risk activations. Regardless, brands need to understand where they are most exposed to deploy their time and funds to develop alternative solutions properly.

Marketing leaders should start by asking their teams and agency partners how “at-risk” their brands really are. Either that or turn to one of the handful of independent, unbiased advisors in the market for a comprehensive assessment of the risks. For example, here are some questions that get answered in a proper forensic review of data strategy:

  • What are all of the data vendors we’ve used, by name?
  • What are the costs associated with each data vendor, by name?
  • What percentage of campaigns rely on each data vendor?
  • What percentage of spend relies on each data vendor?
  • Which vendors have a “future-ready” solution?

Assembling the answers to these seemingly simple questions is a significant undertaking for most brands that have never attempted it. And if you currently depend on data vendors or measurement partners with questionable abilities to future-proof, the solution is often not to simply select a new vendor. Instead, in many cases, a better plan is likely to be build your own first-party data resources. And that takes time.

So, what now?

Apple’s latest announcement is an aggressive one, but it does reflect the next step of their on-going privacy-centric journey.

But somewhat unusually for Google, on this occasion they have given us a precious gift: the gift of time.  The kind of time needed to break down the tech jargon and build up your foundations – make sure you know the basics. Time to understand where you are at risk and build a plan to mitigate them. Time to interrogate the emerging cookieless solutions. And time to plan for a better, informed, future-proofed strategy.

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