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A Paradigm Shift: What New Browser Policy Changes Mean for Advertisers

Digital marketing is changing. Technology and tracking advances in recent years have led to a need for more accountability from brands, platforms, and agencies regarding user rights and privacy concerns. With the recent news that ITP 2.1 will further limit cookie tracking capabilities on Safari browsers, and Mozilla’s latest Firefox browser confirmed to follow suit, browsers are now setting the stage for a paradigm shift in the way brands will track and target digital marketing.

These recent changes enacted by key internet browsers Safari and Mozilla mark the start of a turning point for browsers cracking down on privacy concerns globally. It is likely all major browsers including Google Chrome and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer will soon follow suit. iProspect investigates the implications for marketers and key digital channels.

The Background

Important policy shifts have targeted how tech companies collect data, resulting in the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, and more recently the California Consumer Privacy Act 2018, have led digital platforms to more transparently acknowledge user privacy rights and place limits on online tracking options. These regulatory changes in turn have now driven internet giants to make changes in their browser privacy policies:

  Timeline of ITP 2.0 Update

What Does This Mean?

There are currently two major changes for marketers to consider when anticipating short term and long-term impact:

  1. Third party pixels will no longer be tracked. Within the next year, it is likely that all browsers will no longer accept any third-party pixels/tags, meaning many existing online tracking and targeting solutions will break and data sharing between brands and larger tech platforms will be limited.
  2. Tracking activity through cookies will no longer be possible. Browsers will not allow cookie information and IDs to be passed back to advertisers, ending site remarketing and cookie based retargeting activity. This will have a huge impact on all retargeting efforts, particularly many existing Paid Search and Display strategies which will see cookie audience pools drop over the next few years. Only advertisers with robust CRM integrations and display activity not reliant on cookie retargeting, will be well positioned to ensure long term growth.

Key Channel Implications:

For the elimination of third-party pixels being tracked, advertisers should edit existing pixels and ensure they are set up and recognized as first party. They should also ensure correct set up and solutions like Global Site Tags and Conversion Linkers are implemented to prevent conversion data loss and wider implications.

For tracking activity through cookies, advertisers will see varying impact across key digital channels.

  • Paid Search: The requirement of first party pixels means many brands may see a loss of conversion data reliant on third party pixels. However, workarounds to rectify on Google, Bing, Search Ads 360, Google Analytics and many other platforms are available to edit existing pixels and ensure they are first party. Search marketers should review pixel set up and ensure all tags are set up in line with the first party policy.

The prevention of cookie targeting presents a potential major setback for search marketing. Ultimately, if all browsers follow suit, Google Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA) and Bing Remarketing will not be possible. Targeting based on user visits to the site will be prevented. For now, search marketers should continue their retargeting strategies since this is often one of the best performing audience segments. However, advertisers should make sure they create remarketing audience lists with the maximum number of days possible (up to 540 days) and invest in infrastructure to allow long-term CRM, Customer Match, DMP options and engine-owned audience contextual targeting like similar audience or in-market audiences, to guarantee non-cookie-based user targeting is relied on.

  • Display/Programmatic: These browser changes have major implications for many display and programmatic platforms and advertisers. Similar to Paid Search, advertisers are advised to rectify existing pixels and ensure any possible third-party pixels are set up to be recognized as first party.

Additionally, from a cookie targeting perspective, many display platforms rely heavily on their own or shared cookies. From this cookie information, they track user data based on platform behavior, optimizing and reporting performance. With browsers vowing to prevent cookie tracking, this means retargeting on display platforms will be significantly limited. It could mean poorer targeting capabilities, and no options to report on users who view or interact with display ads and convert later. 

  • Social Media: Social media platforms will be least impacted by these browser shifts. New capabilities such as Facebook’s first party cookies update and Advanced Matching help minimize browser change impact. Additionally, since most social media activity now takes place on an app rather than browsers, and any browser-based social activity generally relies on users being signed in, cookie-based targeting preventions from browsers will cause limited impact. Instead, targeting users based on signed in CRM data will ensure accurate and effective targeting opportunities.

Similarly, since many platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter encourage users to make purchases in-app, cookies can remain visible within the platform reporting capabilities. Browser policy changes will therefore have a smaller impact on social channels (but social media platforms arguably have plenty of other privacy and user rights concerns to be preoccupied with).

What This Means for Marketers

Overall, advertisers and platforms should be aware of the short term and long-term implications from Safari’s latest ITP 2.1 update, Mozilla’s recent release, and the likely browser changes in the works for Chrome and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  Short term, marketers should make the necessary sitewide tagging changes to rectify any third-party tags to be first party, and open cookie based remarketing pools to the maximum time threshold. Longer term, advertisers should accept the possibility of a paradigm shift away from cookie-based audience retargeting and pivot their CRM infrastructure and capabilities to signed-in user strategies. To date, Apple and Mozilla’s browser changes confirm an acknowledgement that user privacy data must come first. Other browsers like Chrome will likely follow suit and, while the impact will not be instant, it is vital for brands and marketers to make changes now.