What Google’s Announcement About Third-Party Cookies Means for Healthcare Advertising

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Google sent shockwaves through the advertising world when it announced that it’d officially end third-party cookies in 2022 and has no plans to build an alternative identifier. If you’re part of the 80% of marketers who rely on third-party cookies, you may be concerned.1 Before diving too deep into that, however, it’s essential to read between the lines to truly understand what Google’s announcement about third-party cookies means for healthcare advertising.

What Google’s Announcement About Third-Party Cookies Means for Healthcare Advertising

What Google wants you to think: It’s getting rid of third-party cookies due to privacy concerns.

Keeping the internet open and accessible for everyone requires all of us to do more to protect privacy — and that means an end to not only third-party cookies but also any technology used for tracking individual people as they browse the web.”
– David Temkin, Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust, Google

Google knows more about online users than any other company in the world—and these users, including millions of healthcare professionals (HCPs), are calling for change. A study released in 2020 found that 74% of US respondents were more alarmed than ever about their digital privacy.2

What Google is actually doing: Taking more control of online advertising.

Google wants fewer cars on the road: The world will be safer; we’ll [Google] keep our Ferrari; and with proposals such as FLoC, everyone else can have a bicycle.”
– Jeff Green, CEO, Founder & Chairman, The Trade Desk

If you’ve launched healthcare campaigns before, you’ve likely used third-party cookies, i.e., tiny pieces of code that track users’ online behavior and allow you to deliver relevant ads. It’s also likely that you’ve done so using Google’s demand-side platform (DSP), known as Google Marketing Platform (previously Google DoubleClick). Whenever you do this, Google makes money—a lot of it. In 2020, Google made $146.92 billion in ad revenue.3 Google is stripping you of the technology you need to deliver relevant ads on the addressable Internet by no longer supporting third-party cookies on Chrome.

On the surface, the announcement looks like Google is bidding farewell to targeted advertising; however, it’s doing the opposite. Google is saying that if you want to do it, you have to go through us—and you can only do it on our properties. The Trade Desk’s CEO, Founder & Chairman, Jeff Green, summed it up by saying, “Google wants fewer cars on the road: The world will be safer; we’ll [Google] keep our Ferrari; and with proposals such as FLoC (Google’s alternative to third-party cookies), everyone else can have a bicycle.” Said another way, Google wants to drive a Ferrari while you ride a bicycle. By getting rid of third-party cookies, Google is forcing your hand. It knows Chrome is the most popular web browser globally and that you want to access HCPs in its database. By funneling everyone through its walls, it’s essentially trying to monopolize online advertising and its revenue. According to eMarketer, total digital ad spending will reach $455.30 billion in 2021.4

What the Frick is FLoC?

FLoC, also known as Federated Learning of Cohorts, will replace third-party cookies with “cohorts,” i.e., groups of users who have a similar browsing history—say, everyone who consumed content related to heart disease. When Google’s algorithm finds enough users, it puts them into a cohort, which becomes available for interest-based advertising. The idea behind FLoC is that everyone in a cohort will share some level of interest in the given content, and thus, will find ads about it relevant. Unlike cookies, however, cohorts are anonymous, so you won’t know if a user is an HCP, a concerned family member, a student, or someone just interested in the topic.

No Enigma Machine Necessary: Why a Cookieless World Isn’t the End of the World

Third-party cookies only impact the browsing internet, which is only about 20% of data-driven ads today.5 They’re also irrelevant to some of the digital world’s most exciting ad-supported channels, like CTV and OTT, which rely on a single sign-on model (HCPs log in with their email to access content). Other healthcare advertising tactics, like contextual advertising, don’t rely on third-party cookies either.

The Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media (PRAM), comprising the world’s leading brands, agencies, publishers as well as major ad tech companies, is working on an alternative that puts users in control. At the heart of these alternatives are hashed emails, which walk the line between privacy and relevance while keeping the status quo of the internet in check. Time will tell how these identity alternatives compare to third-party cookies, but regardless, this is a step in the right direction for the Internet.

What’s a Hashed Email?

A hashed email is an anonymous 32-character code that’s unique to an individual email address; it can’t be reverse-engineered to identify the user. Forthcoming alternative identity solutions use these to identify users across digital devices and channels—but only after they’ve consented.
Google’s announcement to get rid of third-party cookies isn’t really about privacy. It’s about taking more control of online advertising. Regardless of its reasoning, the implications for you don’t change: In 2022, when Chrome stops supporting third-party cookies, it’ll be business as usual for you and your HCP campaigns.

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