Adapting to a world of cookie depreciation

The internet has largely been “free” since its inception, supported by advertising that has become more targeted and sophisticated year over year. This value exchange of personal data for unfettered content access once seemed an unchallenged reality of the internet, but the landscape has recently changed.

Over the past two years, we have seen a rise in data consciousness among consumers, who are concerned about their privacy and how their data is used. Consumers are demanding more transparency into how their data is collected and monetized and want oversight of the process.

This outcry was the catalyst for new policies in 2018—the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States. Although these policies create a vague operating framework, there are two key takeaways for digital businesses and advertisers in these markets:

You must let consumers know they are being tracked and obtain their consent to do so.

Now, if brands don’t follow these regulations, they may face legal repercussions.

Privacy reform led by tech giants

Fast-forward a bit, and you have the likes of Apple and Google announcing that they will be limiting and restricting the use of third-party cookies on their platforms in order to be more in tune with their consumers’ privacy needs. Who knew one statement could hold so much weight?

In the digital advertising world, this news sounded like the death of modern advertising.

So how do we face this monumental force of change in our industry? Ten months after Google announced Chrome would be depreciating cookies by 2022, we’ve learned a lot, but we still have a long way to go to replicate the lost functionality of third-party cookies. Creating pathways to do so will establish a new normal.

Brush up on your cookie context

You can review all the ins and outs of cookie depreciation by reading our previous article on effective advertising in a cookie-less world. Listed below are a few high-level areas of your current digital marketing strategy that will likely be impacted.

  • Media: Retargeting, frequency management, third-party audience targeting and creative personalization
  • Audience creation: Building audiences in your DMP, audience enrichment and media activation
  • Measurement: View-through attribution and multi-touch attribution (depending on your partner)
  • Optimization: Optimizing toward CPA and optimizing toward top audiences built on first- and third-party data and frequency

While we can, and have, laid out what is happening broadly in our industry, we know the key questions on our clients’ minds are quite simple: “How does this impact my business?” and, more importantly, “How should I approach the future?”

Start with a Hearts impact assessment

Hearts has set a road map for assessing impact and navigating the future, which we are customizing for each client team. Here’s how we’re approaching the initial assessment:

  • Assess your tech stack. Understanding how data is collected and your stack’s reliance on cookies will be crucial in understanding the impact of cookie depreciation. If your stack is consolidated within a single walled garden like Facebook or Google, more of your systems will be speaking the same language, and data degradation will be limited. After all, they aren’t called “walled gardens” without reason. As you can imagine, Google and Facebook don’t intend to limit their future revenue opportunities with this cookie change, but they have been very tight-lipped on how they plan to navigate this in the future; a safe bet is they will find a solution. If you are leveraging multiple tech solutions, the connectivity challenge will be greater but not insurmountable.
  • Assess your partners. What venues and with whom do you buy media? If they are connected or have plans for addressing these challenges, your impact will be lessened.
  • Assess your channel allocation. Which partners do you use? In what environments, across what screens, using what type of data? Each channel and form factor will experience a different level of impact.
  • Examine your attribution models. What tech do you currently use to determine attribution? Do you deploy brand studies? How are these solutions powered? Understanding how you measure and allocate the impact of your marketing efforts is a foundational step to informing your future strategy in a cookie-less world.
  • Take stock of your first-party data. How do you capture and activate your first-party data? Do you rely on cookies to activate it? Do you use a DMP or third party to enrich your audiences? This may be a good time to start capturing opt-in emails and enriching your own data directly.
  • Review your optimization strategy. Take a look at how your media KPIs inform campaign optimization. Do you use manual or automated optimizations? Do your media partners leverage cookies to make optimizations on your behalf?

Overcome setbacks with Hearts mitigation strategies and solutions

Once you have completed the assessment above and the resulting gap analysis, you can begin developing mitigation strategies and short-term stopgaps.


  • Begin testing inventory and screen contextual targeting tactics to build a capacity, knowledge base, and dataset.
  • If you aren’t already using the walled garden or second-party data to inform your campaigns, begin piloting one.
  • Understand the overlap and correlation between these non-cookie-based signals and your audience delivery.


  • Leverage the insights from your media testing to identify new signals that can be leveraged to create predictive audiences.
  • Use data clean-rooms to complement your existing DMP audience enrichment strategies—your media delivery and first-party audience data can live in the same cloud solution.


  • Continue to leverage media mix modeling (MMM) solutions to inform your marketing decisions at a channel level.
  • Complement this modeling with incrementality testing to understand how your current strategies can drive additional value.


  • Begin identifying how leveraging non-cookie-based levers can help you optimize your media. Leverage A/B testing to see if you can achieve the same effectiveness and media KPIs.

While we don’t have a crystal ball, we do have a sense of what lies ahead. By undertaking the Impact Assessment outlined above with a trusted partner like Hearts, you can begin to set short-term and medium-term strategies to ensure the shift to a cookie-less environment results in minimal disruption to your business.

And who knows? Taking stock of your tech stack, partners and strategies may even uncover new areas of opportunity.

Next steps

Now that you have the lay of the land and a clear assessment of where you’re at, learn how to implement your post-cookie strategy.