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Marketing in a Cookieless Future



Third-party cookies have shaped internet interactions since they debuted on Netscape over 20 years ago. But soon, they will be gone.

Chrome, Firefox, and other major browsers will cease supporting third-party cookies by the end of 2021. This decision comes in response to legislation such as Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). It sports broad appeal, as it evolves electronic communications towards an ecosystem that prioritizes respect for individual privacy. It also poses a significant challenge to marketers.


Digital advertising relies on granular data about user behavior. With a cookieless future looming, advertisers wonder how they could effectively reach audiences while aligning their practices to the new landscape.

Proposed solutions abound, and they run the gamut from fundamental overhaul to deploying an armada of second-party proxies. Pieces of each approach deliver value but, together, they simply present too many competing options.

One insight helps a comprehensive strategy take shape. Advertisers of the future should change the how of media targeting, rather than the what or who.


Single sign-on (SSO) consent presents perhaps the most straightforward opportunity. With SSO, a user opts to receive communications from multiple media channels while identifying themself with a persistent signature (ie, a Facebook profile or Gmail account). By tracking the behavior of the signature, rather than the user, advertisers can effectively target known attributes without ever receiving unique identity credentials.

Decentralized identifiers (DIDs) layer this anonymity one step further, granting users the ability to prove that their information is verified and communicated peer-to-peer without any third-party observation. The IOTA Foundation leads the charge in DIDs via ongoing development of its Tangle Network, a bleeding-edge competitor to blockchain technologies.

To best utilize these novel methods of data collection, advertisers also must change how they apply information. A shift to first-party data would enable clients to engage audience segments with robust granularity. Predictive analytics and machine learning, currently leveraged to create consumer lookalikes, could be expanded to lead scoring, lifetime value analysis, and customer journey modeling that understands audience needs.

As marketing transitions, major partners offer the support of compliant alternatives to third-party cookie tracking. Unified ID stands out with its hashed, open-source connection to an SSO that shields access to the root identity. Unified ID is a public standard developed jointly by The Trade Desk and Nielsen. Private complements include Apple’s Storage Access API and Google’s Privacy Sandbox.


First-party data systems and machine learning solutions pose significant costs. In a recent Winterberry poll, over 60% of data professionals pinpointed investment as their top response to the cookieless future. Before planning expenditures, advertisers should dig into their existing first-party capabilities, paying particular attention to data quality and gaps in engagement.

Simultaneously, marketers should query partners to understand emerging targeting tools. Already, media outlets are meeting industry needs with commercial technologies, in some instances furnishing solutions that surpass third-party cookies. It is incumbent on all agencies and analytics firms to evaluate these with respect to a holistic ROI.

It will be hard, expensive work. But, correctly executed, it will make the next chapter in digital marketing and communications even more fruitful than the last.