Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Get your bucket and spade – it’s time to play in the Sandbox

By Simon Halstead, Founder of Halstead Incubation Partners and a regular NDA columnist

Several years after the initial announcements that Chrome would remove 3rd party cookies, depreciation is approaching. As we start 2024 it would be remiss of me not to encourage everyone to lean into all the identity and measurement solutions in the market, including testing Privacy Sandbox

Privacy Sandbox is still in its relative infancy as an initiative, and so only through engagement and feedback can it be shaped to be beneficial for actors in the industry, whilst representing a significant shift in addressability from cookies to cohorts, from 1:1 to 1 of many. We have recently seen progress updates from The CMA, and Google, and the industry has been increasing activity already, with many companies ramping up testing, and producing very strong feedback from the IAB Tech Lab in its Privacy Sandbox GAP Analysis. Google has recently released its response this week and it has to be said that the debate whilst robust is positive.

If we think of it as comparable to other industry standards, like Open RTB, VAST or TCF then we see standards evolve and improve through engagement, testing and feedback. It’s easier to throw stones at the glass, or to put heads down and ignore – but it’s also reasonable to assume that at some point in 2024, the CMA will grant approval for Google to move forward, and after a standstill period the cookie for 3rd party usage will go away. 

The specifics of the timeline are yet to be fully determined, but it would be prudent for companies to be ready for depreciation this year. Current projected timelines stand as below: 

I thought it might be beneficial to focus on some more practical updates and help people understand how to address the impending change. 

As of today, Safari and Mozilla already actively block 3rd party cookies. That’s upward of 40% of all traffic, and an even greater share on mobile that isn’t cookies. Developing effective targeting and measurement approaches that span browsers increases the pool of effective consumers to reach, and potentially offsets a level of signal loss on Chrome.

Some environments are more impacted than others – Web and Web retargeting are the hardest hit, whilst the change to Privacy Sandbox for Android is to come down the road. These changes are Chrome only, with Safari and Mozilla unsupportive and with limited support in alternative Chrome-based browsers such as Edge. 

It’s also important that the focus is much broader than addressability or targeting. All areas of the current digital ecosystem are impacted from: 

Audience Segments 

Brand Safety tools 

Measurement and Campaign attribution 

Retail marketing 

There are areas that are less reliant on cookies or are more reliant on IP, or have higher logged-in audiences by default. CTV is one such area, although it’s worth noting that there are potentially increasing restrictions around the use of IP, which could impact measurement here in the development roadmaps of browsers, or already activated like Safari. This can have the impact of shifting spend to environments less impacted, or to walled gardens with 1P cookie presence. 

The first step is for anybody to engage with their partners, Agencies, DSP, Data providers, SSP and beyond to understand: 

What are the impacts for my activity? 

Are you engaged in testing? 

What are your recommendations specific to my needs to be able to measure and address audiences? 

If you are uncertain of where to start – then lean into your IAB teams and your partners for support. The time to test and learn is now. It’s particularly important that Advertisers and agencies divert a small % of budget for testing – even if it’s just 1% to match the browser share currently. 

The significant positive of all of this is the debate is moving on – with IAB Tech Lab releasing its detailed analysis of the Privacy Sandbox Gap – and Google is responding. The time is now to lean into the Sandbox as a business, and participate in the development, as well as ensure your 

My bets on the future: 

● Sandbox iterates to be a usable standard, following robust engagement between Tech Lab and Chrome. 

● Topics is not widely adopted versus other contextual solutions, but is used heavily within the Google Ads stack and so still a significant factor, and other buyers engage with Topics API – particularly across the longer tail. Publishers will participate. 

● Seller Defined Audiences and curation gain traction, with a strong resurgence of publisher first-party data.

● Protected Audiences (PAAPI), the cohort focussed retargeting solution is used extensively 

● Marketeers use a patchwork of solutions to cover addressability and measurement

● The shift from reliance on cookies on Chrome sees a rebalancing of spend across browsers 

● Measurement remains challenging, with a significant change to standards and the models used by marketers.