This article is adapted from Adam's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast.

Understanding the monumental shift in digital marketing is crucial for leaders who aim to keep their strategies both relevant and effective. As the industry undergoes a significant transformation with the end of third-party cookies, I find myself at the heart of this evolution. 

This transition represents a pivotal moment not just for digital marketing but for the broader interaction between technology and consumer engagement. 

In this article, I’ll share insights into how businesses can thrive in a post-third-party-cookies world, emphasizing the importance of first-party data and innovative solutions like data clean rooms to maintain and enhance our connection with audiences.

Prefer to listen? Check out Adam's appearance on CMO Convo here 👇

The significance of third-party cookies' removal

The phase-out of third-party cookies marks the most significant disruption in marketing since the advent of social media. This change, while discussed, seems to have flown under the radar for many in the industry. 

I believe this is because the issue is more channel-led than creative-led, capturing the attention of technical experts who are solving the problems and driving effectiveness. This contrasts with the more visible work of creative directors at top ad agencies, possibly explaining why the topic hasn't been as prominent as it should be in industry discussions.

The role of cookies in marketing

It's crucial to differentiate between first-party or zero-party cookies and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are placed by the website owner themselves, where there's a clear value exchange between the website and its user. A prime example is Amazon, where your activities and preferences are tracked for personalization purposes, all with your knowledge and consent.

On the other hand, third-party cookies are placed by entities other than the website owner. These cookies have been pivotal in driving digital marketing, especially in programmatic advertising, by acting as tiny trackers. It's fascinating to note that third-party cookies date back to 1994, introduced by Lou Montulli on Netscape, marking a significant evolution in digital marketing.

This evolution has profoundly impacted both B2C and B2B marketing. Our analysis at Sportradar revealed that about 30% of our base marketing efforts could be affected by the removal of third-party cookies. This change isn't just a challenge; it represents a tremendous opportunity for innovation within the industry.

The shift away from third-party cookies should be viewed positively, as a chance for the marketing industry to evolve and innovate. Programmatic advertising and third-party cookies have significantly contributed to the accountability, attribution tracking, and measurement in marketing, demonstrating how marketing can drive growth, particularly with the rise of e-commerce.

However, the reliance on these methods has somewhat stifled innovation, as the safety and predictability they offer make it difficult to explore new avenues. Despite this, the creativity in campaign construction has not diminished. The upcoming changes necessitate a re-evaluation of our approaches, encouraging innovation and the exploration of new technologies.

At Sportradar, we've embraced this challenge by developing Sportradar Fan ID, an end-to-end marketing solution centered around first-party data. This initiative is a prime example of how the industry can adapt to the loss of third-party cookies by leveraging innovation to maintain, and even enhance, marketing effectiveness.

Why is Google phasing out third-party cookies?

Privacy concerns and regulatory changes are the primary drivers behind Google's decision to phase out third-party cookies. With GDPR in Europe and CCPA in California, there's been a significant shift towards more stringent data protection measures. Consumer attitudes towards cookies and online privacy have also played a role in this change. 

Although Safari and Firefox have already removed third-party cookies, Google Chrome's dominant market share means its actions have a broader impact. Initially planned for 2020, the phase-out has been delayed, partly due to the industry's lack of readiness and the impact of COVID-19. However, with Google having already started to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome, it's clear this change is imminent.

Now is arguably the best time for marketers to adapt to a cookie-less world, thanks to advances in technology and the democratization of first-party data collection. The technology and tools available today for collecting and managing first-party data are more accessible and sophisticated than ever before. However, there's still room for improvement, especially in how we engage with consumers around data collection.

The key to successful first-party data collection is establishing a clear value exchange and trust with consumers. People are becoming increasingly aware of the value of their data and are more cautious about whom they share it with and why. 

This awareness is not just about the technology but also about creating a meaningful exchange where consumers feel their data is used to enhance their experience meaningfully. In sports, where there's a strong emotional connection, this exchange is particularly potent. Brands and marketers must ensure they deliver on the promise of a better, more personalized experience in exchange for consumer data.

Consumer awareness around data privacy is evolving, with younger generations like Gen Z and Gen Alpha being particularly savvy about their internet presence and the value of their data. This shift in perception underscores the importance of fair data exchange practices for companies. 

As we move forward, the dialogue around privacy, data collection, and the responsible use of consumer information will become increasingly crucial in building and maintaining trust with audiences.

The transition to first-party data and its capabilities

With the global advertising market valued at approximately $720 billion and a significant portion reliant on programmatic advertising, the shift away from third-party cookies presents a substantial impact on the industry. 

A study from Adobe highlighted that 75% of marketers rely heavily on third-party cookies, with 45% dedicating at least half of their budget to such campaigns. This underscores the scale at which first-party data needs to be ramped up to fill the void left by third-party cookies. 

The move towards first-party data as the lead for marketing is recognized as inevitable, supported by consumer willingness to share data for personalized experiences.

A successful strategy encompasses collection, connection, activation, and orchestration of data. Sports serve as an effective example where emotional connections facilitate data collection. Sportradar’s approach, particularly with the Sportradar Fan ID, is built around these four stages, starting with data collection and moving towards sophisticated data utilization strategies like data clean rooms. 

These are essential for transitioning from a third-party cookie to a first and zero-party data ecosystem. By focusing on a specific sector, like sports, we've developed a data cleanroom that integrates sport-specific data, enriching the marketing solutions provided to clients. This allows for targeted, contextual advertising with a depth of insight previously reserved for CRM systems.

The role of data clean rooms in evolution

Data clean rooms play a crucial role in this evolution, offering a secure way to manage and analyze data while maintaining privacy. By infusing these clean rooms with sector-specific data, such as sports, we can deliver highly targeted and contextual advertising that aligns with the consumers' interests and behaviors. 

This not only fills the void left by third-party cookies but enhances the marketing landscape by providing deeper engagement and personalization at scale.

The future of marketing with first-party data

The shift to a first-party data framework is an exciting development, presenting opportunities for deeper consumer engagement and innovation in marketing strategies. This transition enables marketers to leverage sophisticated data analysis and personalization techniques at the beginning of the consumer journey, enhancing both the effectiveness and creativity of marketing campaigns. 

The removal of third-party cookies forces the industry to innovate, offering a chance to rethink and improve how we connect with consumers. This period of change should be seen as an opportunity to explore new ideas and strategies that can lead to more effective and meaningful marketing efforts.

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The core challenge in today's marketing ecosystem is capturing and retaining audience attention amidst a multitude of platforms and content options. As consumers engage across various channels, each interaction raises their expectations for quality and personalized experiences. This evolution makes the battle for attention increasingly complex, emphasizing the need for relevance and personalization in marketing strategies.

To effectively engage in an omni-channel world without relying on third-party cookies, the focus must shift towards creating value and relevance for the audience through personalization and contextual marketing. 

The shift in consumer behavior, particularly among modern consumers with diverse content and purchasing habits, necessitates a strategic approach to cut through the noise of the attention economy. 

The goal is to ensure that regardless of where consumers spend their time, they encounter marketing messages that are tailored, relevant, and valuable.

The transition away from third-party cookies and towards solutions like Sportradar's Fan ID represents an opportunity to refine marketing strategies, minimizing wastage and maximizing relevance across all channels. 

This channel-agnostic approach is critical for engaging consumers effectively, regardless of the platform they use. Whether it's social media, connected TV, traditional web, or mobile applications, the underlying technology must support seamless, personalized interactions that resonate with the audience.

As technology evolves, including developments in spatial computing and the metaverse, the foundational elements of marketing remain crucial. These advancements offer new opportunities for engagement, but the success of future marketing efforts will depend on the ability to maintain personalization and relevance at scale.

The focus on building robust data management and activation technologies, like data clean rooms, will be instrumental in adapting to these changes, ensuring marketers can continue to connect with their audiences effectively, no matter the channel or platform. 

This period of innovation and adaptation highlights the importance of foundational marketing technologies that will enable brands to build on new opportunities and engage with consumers in increasingly sophisticated and personalized ways.

The sports industry offers a unique perspective on the evolving landscape of marketing and fan engagement, particularly highlighted by events like the Super Bowl. These occasions demonstrate the potential of targeting and engaging with specific audiences, including those who may only interact with the sport or event once a year. 

The shift from third-party cookies to more sophisticated engagement strategies, such as Sportradar's Fan ID system, underlines the importance of creating meaningful connections with fans to drive long-term engagement and commercial success.

Data clean rooms have emerged as a pivotal solution for addressing the challenges posed by the disappearance of third-party cookies. These secure, digital repositories for data sharing enable the consensual and anonymized exchange of first-party data, providing a foundation for targeted marketing without compromising user privacy. 

This approach allows for a deeper and more accurate engagement with audiences by leveraging detailed sports data and contextual information, enriching the marketing efforts of brands, rights holders, and agencies within the sports ecosystem.

The focus on privacy compliance within these new marketing frameworks is paramount. Sportradar’s implementation of a data cleanroom in the Fan ID solution exemplifies how marketing leaders are prioritizing the protection and ethical use of consumer data. 

By ensuring that marketing activations are both effective and privacy-compliant, the industry can foster a healthier ecosystem that benefits both consumers and brands. This transition represents an opportunity to enhance the relevance and impact of marketing messages, ultimately leading to improved conversion rates and more successful outcomes.

This evolution not only addresses the immediate challenges posed by changes in data privacy regulations but also sets the stage for a future where marketing activations are more targeted, relevant, and respectful of consumer privacy.

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Data clean rooms have become a critical technology for brands, rights holders, and agencies. These are not simple, plug-and-play solutions but rather complex, significant pieces of technology that require collaboration with knowledgeable partners to implement effectively. The transition to data clean rooms involves a modular approach, allowing for scalability and adaptability to specific marketing needs.

The process of adapting to a post-third-party cookie world is underpinned by four main pillars: data collection, data connection, activation, and orchestration. These stages are essential for marketers to consider as they reevaluate their strategies in light of the changes. 

For those in the sports ecosystem, this shift represents both a challenge and an opportunity to leverage the passion and engagement of sports fans for more targeted, meaningful marketing initiatives.

For sectors like sports, which inherently have a vast and engaged audience, the focus shifts to leveraging this passion to create effective marketing strategies. The richness of the sports category offers a fertile ground for data-driven marketing, provided there is a clear understanding of how to segment and target the audience effectively. This nuanced approach requires marketers to think deeply about their target audiences and the specific value they can offer to engage them meaningfully.

As the industry moves away from reliance on third-party cookies, the emphasis is on finding and implementing solutions that ensure continuity in marketing effectiveness. Marketers need to prioritize understanding and integrating technologies like data clean rooms into their strategies. 

The aim is not just to maintain digital engagement with audiences but also to explore how these strategies integrate with broader marketing efforts, including digital out-of-home, social media, PR, and experiential marketing.

Sportradar Fan ID serves as a prime example of how to adapt and thrive in this new environment, particularly for those involved in sports marketing. It demonstrates the potential for specific categories to develop tailored solutions that address the challenges of engaging with audiences in a privacy-compliant, effective manner. 

For those outside the sports sector, the shift necessitates a thorough evaluation of how to connect with audiences within their unique ecosystems, emphasizing the need for innovation and adaptation to ensure continued growth and effectiveness in marketing strategies.

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The future of agencies in a cookieless marketing world

Agencies will undoubtedly continue to exist and play a crucial role in the marketing ecosystem, but they must adapt to the new realities of a cookieless world. The necessity for adaptation isn't just about keeping pace with technological changes but also about aligning with evolving client needs and consumer privacy expectations.

The transition away from third-party cookies offers agencies an opportunity to rethink and innovate their approach to targeting and engaging audiences. Solutions like data clean rooms represent a significant shift in how data is managed and utilized for marketing purposes. 

Agencies, particularly those specializing in media and programmatic advertising, need to become proficient in these new technologies and processes to continue delivering value to their clients.

The relationship between agencies and their clients, whether brands or rights holders, is centered on identifying and reaching specific audiences effectively. The end goal remains the same: to drive commercial success through strategic marketing efforts. 

In this new landscape, agencies are expected to guide their clients through the complexities of data collection, connection, activation, and orchestration, ensuring that marketing dollars are spent efficiently and effectively.

For those operating within specific sectors like sports, leveraging category-specific solutions such as Sportradar's Fan ID can provide a competitive edge (we have a whitepaper that explains more). These solutions offer a way to navigate the challenges of engaging sports audiences in a post-third-party cookie environment, ensuring that marketing efforts are not only compliant with privacy regulations but also more targeted and relevant.

The objective for agencies in this evolving ecosystem is not merely to find a direct replacement for third-party cookies but to seek out and implement solutions that offer improvements in targeting accuracy, audience engagement, and marketing effectiveness. 

This proactive approach will benefit all stakeholders in the marketing chain, from agencies to brands to consumers, fostering a more transparent, effective, and privacy-conscious marketing landscape.


Q: Why are third-party cookies ending?

A: Privacy concerns and changing regulations are driving the phase-out of third-party cookies. With laws like GDPR and CCPA emphasizing consumer data protection, internet users have become more aware of how their information is collected and used online. Google's decision reflects this growing focus on privacy across the industry and culture more broadly.

Though other browsers like Safari and Firefox have already blocked third-party cookies, Google Chrome's market dominance means this change will impact most internet users. While initially planned for 2020, real-world developments like COVID-19 and readiness concerns pushed back the timeline - but this change nonetheless seems imminent.

For marketers, now presents an opportunity to shift to first-party data collection and create transparent value exchanges with consumers around their data. With technology advancing to make first-party data more accessible, we have a chance to collect consumer information responsibly. But earning user trust remains paramount.

As younger generations demonstrate particular awareness around internet privacy, establishing fair data use practices only grows in importance. By delivering meaningful personalization in exchange for data, marketers can build goodwill and loyalty. In categories with emotional connections like sports, this value exchange carries even greater weight.

Overall, marketers must listen to evolving consumer attitudes, invest in responsible data practices, and emphasize transparency. By taking privacy seriously and focusing on trust, we can adapt to the loss of third-party cookies smoothly.

Q: What is replacing third-party cookies?

As third-party cookies phase out, first-party data strategies are moving front and center. By collecting data directly from consumers and integrating it into marketing efforts, brands can deliver relevant messaging without relying on external tracking methods.

Advanced technologies like data clean rooms now enable the ethical sharing of first-party data at scale while prioritizing privacy. These secure, digital environments allow brands to exchange audience insights anonymously, fueling targeting and personalization.

For marketers, implementing robust first-party data strategies is essential to adapt to the loss of third-party cookies. This shift reflects both technological changes and evolving consumer attitudes around privacy. Regulations like GDPR and CCPA also accelerate the transition.

Rather than viewing this evolution as restrictive, it presents real opportunities to refocus on transparent value exchanges with customers. By offering personalized experiences in return for data, marketers can build loyalty and trust.

As younger demographics demonstrate heightened awareness around data privacy, establishing responsible data practices only becomes more vital for long-term success. The brands that invest in consumer relationships now can reap the benefits of first-party data further down the line.

In summary, third-party cookies are being replaced by consumer-centric strategies centered on consent, transparency, and delivering relevant experiences. With the right approach, this shift can strengthen marketing efforts rather than weaken them.

Q: What will marketers do without cookies?

A: The loss of third-party cookies necessitates a pivot to more sophisticated first-party data strategies. By collecting consented information directly from consumers, brands can deliver relevant messaging without relying on external tracking methods. Technologies like data clean rooms now enable the ethical sharing of first-party insights at scale while prioritizing privacy.

For marketers, implementing robust first-party approaches is essential to adapt to this cookie-less future. Advanced customer data platforms and data clean rooms empower truly personalized marketing. The brands that invest in these solutions now will reap long-term rewards.

Rather than viewing this shift as restrictive, it enables marketers to refocus on transparent value exchanges with customers. By offering personalized experiences in return for data, marketers can build loyalty and trust.

As younger demographics demonstrate heightened awareness around data privacy, establishing responsible data practices only becomes more vital for success. The marketers that make privacy and consent core to their strategies will earn consumer confidence.

This period of change brings real opportunities to innovate and strengthen consumer connections. With the right vision, marketers can thrive without relying on third-party cookies. The focus must shift to mutually beneficial data exchanges. If we build these ethical foundations now, marketing will grow more effective in the years ahead.

How are you navigating the end of third-party cookies? Share your experiences and discuss strategies with a global network of marketing leaders in the CMO Alliance Community Slack channel.

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