The Cookie Apocalypse: What is it, what are the impacts, who does it affect, how can you survive it

September 5, 2022
, written by
Omega Love
The cookie apocalypse is here, but there’s no need to panic. Be prepared so your marketing ads will still bring in a high number of reach, impressions and improve brand awareness.

Collecting data for audience targeting, tracking website visitors, monitoring and remembering website users’ information has been prevalent over the past decade. There’s been a strong desire from brands and marketers to understand consumers’ online behaviour across devices. How have brands managed to capture so much consumer data? Third-party cookies (3PCs) of course. But hand-in-hand with collecting so much consumer behaviour data, there have always been privacy issues where these cookies are concerned.

Over the last few years, we have seen more stringent privacy laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) come into play. Likewise, companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple have put restrictions on third-party cookies. You might be wondering, why so much effort to restrict third-party cookies? With so much consumer uproar and software to limit tracking and monitoring, people want to protect their personal data and privacy.

Now, another big shift is coming - the cookie apocalypse. But what does the cookie apocalypse actually mean? This refers to the elimination of third-party cookies from the internet and on such an apocalyptic scale, as 80% of advertisers rely on third-party cookies (Epsilon’s research). Now you have a general overview, let’s dive a little deeper into this hot yet complex cookie apocalypse topic.

What is the cookie apocalypse?

The cookie apocalypse is essentially the demise of the third-party cookie.

Cookie restrictions and bans have gone through various stages. First, consumers were allowed to opt-in to cookies instead of having them mandatorily imposed on them. Apple’s Safari and Mozilla's Firefox started restricting cookies from third-party advertisers in 2013. A few years ago, Microsoft, Brave and Vivaldi also began blocking third-party cookies by default in their respective browsers.

GDPR and CCPA came in full force in 2018 and 2019 - remember the cookie consent buttons? In January 2020, Google announced its plan to deprecate third-party cookies within Chrome in three years. Apple followed suit in June 2020, announcing that it would limit the use of the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) - the mobile device ID used by advertisers for targeting, personalising and measuring marketing campaigns.

the demise

What are the benefits of eliminating third-party cookies?

All these developments have caused a stir in the advertising and marketing spaces. But here’s a fact — cookies don’t have a reputation for being transparent. In most cases, consumers are unaware of how their data is being used and there have been severe privacy breaches. Cookies are also complex and often intrusive.

The cookie apocalypse may signal the onset of obstacles for marketers, but it’s about giving consumers more control over what data is collected and shared about them, as well as how brands use it. Google and Apple have reiterated this, highlighting that identifier deprecation is about respecting consumer privacy.  

Plus, let’s not forget the disappearance of third-party cookies could spell the end of intrusive ads that ruin the user experience. Consider how many consumers out there keep seeing adverts for something they’ve already bought.

“There is a cookie fatigue that is to say people are tired of having cookie banners on every page.” Dr. Olaf Koglin - Director Legal & HR at upday

If you look at it this way, the apocalypse is a good thing for consumers. In fact, it’s what they want (at least most of them). The big issue here is that it’s a challenge for marketers and brands wanting to capture consumer data and insights.  

What are the challenges caused by the cookie apocalypse?

Let’s have a look at the top challenges marketers are going to face as a result of the cookie apocalypse.

Consumer Impact: A hit on personalisation

Consumers fundamentally want personalisation - 66% of people want brands to understand their expectations and unique needs, and 52% always expect personalised offers, according to Salesforce research.

There’s a catch - personalisation depends on audience data to recognise what consumers want — this data relies on third-party cookies. The loss of cookies is going to affect how marketers deliver customised user experiences as third-party cookies help deliver the most relevant message to each consumer based on prior interactions with online content.

Marketing Impact: Difficulties with online audience targeting

Currently, tracking users across sites and displaying ultra-relevant ads are hyper-relevant the best way to reach the right audience through online advertising. For example, advertisers can specifically target customers who visited a hotel booking site with a travel-related product/service due to third-party cookies.

But without cookies, advertisers will have significantly less access to data than before. Tracking the customer journey of a user as they move from one site to another would not be possible. Additionally, retargeting customers based on previous interactions with ads is another feature that would disappear as a subsequence of the marketing cookie ban.


Financial Impact: What are the financial impacts of the elimination of third-party cookies?

There’s no doubt that this apocalypse is going to force some big changes in digital advertising. Up to $10 billion in publisher revenue is at risk in the US alone, according to a report from McKinsey. And that’s just the start. Epsilon’s research highlighted how 69% of advertisers think that the disappearance of third-party cookies will have a bigger impact than CCPA( California Consumer Privacy Act) and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).


Thriving in a cookieless world

The good news is that the situation isn’t all bleak. Surviving the apocalypse requires merging strategies from the adtech and marketing spaces to thrive in a cookieless environment. Here are a few approaches marketers can adopt in the face of the apocalypse.

There are alternatives that offer marketing ways around the cookie ban, like traditional out-of-home companies like Ströer or JCDecaux. But if you’re looking for an ultra-modern, affordable and digital-outdoor advertising platform, then FRAMEN is an excellent option for marketers to share their company's message and products/services in a way that captures consumers’ attention without the need for cookies.

Strengthen your first-party data systems

The absence of (or severe limitation of) third-party cookies means both marketers and brands will need to play to their strengths. One of those strengths is first-party data, which a company collects directly from its customers and owns.

“As a publisher I am strongly against too many third party cookies being dropped on my web page. I am strongly protective of my data; this is why I prefer first party cookies.” Sabine Schmidt - Senior Manager Data at Media Impact.

You’ll need to invest in collecting and analyzing first-party data, which is not only more accurate and relevant, but decreases reliance on other data sources as well. The use of first-party data presents an opportunity to take advantage of advertising channels that use this kind of data. This brings us to the next strategy.

Cookieless alternatives

Some advertising channels are ahead of the curve, allowing marketers to use first-party data to advertise without third-party cookies. With DOOH solutions, you can stay ahead of the transition, ensuring the continued success of your marketing campaigns. You’ll be able to reach your audience with the right message at the right time, all without getting your brand lost in a sea of online ads.

“If third-party cookies go away, we’ll find need to find another solution how we can target our audience.” Dr. Pascal Volz - Managing Director Performance at fischerAppelt

Take the FRAMEN Ads Manager, for example. The tool offers digital-out-of-home (DOOH) advertising which is, a great option that uses smart tech to serve targeted, contextualized ads without retrieving any personal data. The beauty of contextual marketing is that it improves engagement and the overall customer experience. Cookieless advertising will make adapting to a world without third-party cookie technology easier.

Increase transparency

According to Publicis Sapient’s Data Collection and Consent Survey, over 60% of consumers have no idea what companies do with their personal data. 40% don’t believe that the data they share always equates to the value they get in return. However, those who are more knowledgeable about what companies do with their data tend to see the benefits of data collection.

Going forward, it’s crucial for marketers to view data sharing as a transaction of value from the consumer to the company. For instance, you’ll have to be extremely clear about the personalisation your brand will offer in exchange for the consensual sharing of your data.


What now?

It’s important to remember that the loss of third-party cookies is an opportunity for better marketing that respects consumer privacy. The availability of cookieless advertising solutions means you can successfully respond to the dialling down of third-party data and emerge as a survivor of the cookie apocalypse.

The cookie apocalypse is upon us, but there’s no need to panic. As a marketer, the best course of action is to be prepared and already consider alternative solutions to ensure your marketing ads will still bring in a high number of reach, impressions and improve brand awareness. Keep an eye out for changes that could affect your brand and prepare strategies to protect yourself. If you’re interested in hearing directly from leading industry experts on this transformative change, take a look at this panel discussion we recently hosted in Berlin on the topic: “Cookie Apocolapyse - New Era of Advertising”.

Watch the event hightlights.

Find out how other brands have leveraged cookieless advertising to grow their brands, and how your brand can come out stronger.