Ideas + Opinions

The Cookieless Future: Don’t Be Scared

For years, the digital advertising industry has relied on third-party cookies to identify, track and target individuals online. But concerns about opaque and intrusive practices have mounted among users and regulators, and in January 2020 Google announced its intention to phase out third-party cookies from its market-leading Chrome browser by 2022, signaling the technology’s demise.

The end of third-party cookies – good or bad news?

At Hybrid Theory, we believe the demise of the third-party cookie will bring advantages to advertisers in the long term, as the digital advertising industry adapts to a new, privacy-first era of new technology and changing behaviours. We also see opportunities here for clients who are prepared to think big. Hybrid Theory’s core strength is to take huge amounts of disparate data and turn it into business insights and strategies, so the dismantling of easy, cookie-driven targeting creates the kind of challenge we were born to answer.

Google has made it clear it will not phase out support for third-party cookies until it has helped develop new tools for digital advertising’s key use cases, and first-party cookies are unaffected. But Google’s move has implications for the ad tech supply chain, from publishers to advertisers.

So, how will the digital advertising of  the future operate?

The picture is a shifting one, but it is moving fast. Hybrid Theory is involved in a number of groups working to shape the new digital media landscape. These include the W3C’s Improving Web Advertising Business Group, which numbers Google, Facebook, Microsoft among its members, and the Project Rearc Task Force, chaired by the IAB Tech Lab. In the meantime, let’s take the different use cases one at a time:


Third-party cookies help us understand user behaviours between different sites. We are working on the FLoC proposal that aims to group consumers into ‘flocks’ of similar people for targeting purposes. We can leverage almost 400m events a day to create custom audiences using FLoC IDs and find the right users for every client.


Third-party cookies allow us to re-message content to a previous website visitor. We’re implementing the Turtledove and Dovekey proposals and their concept of interest groups – collections of people who are interested in seeing particular ads. Hybrid Theory can build these interest groups and target or retarget them with precise, cookieless strategies. The browser, not the advertiser, holds the identifying information.

Relationship / CRM Marketing

Most brands onboard CRM data and connect it to targetable IDs, including third-party cookies. Hybrid Theory has several cookieless alternatives and partnerships: data clean rooms connect first-party data sources in a privacy-safe environment with out sharing personal data; people-based identifiers allow onboard CRM, loyalty schemes and others to support personalised targeting via hashed emails.

Conversion measurement

The ad-tech industry measures conversions via third-party cookies that link clicks to information about activity on an advertiser’s site. We’re working to implement the Conversion Measurement API, which aims to measure campaigns and report their return on investment in a privacy-preserving way.

Contextual targeting

Contextual targeting is already one of the multiple trading strategies at Hybrid Theory. But we’re working to provide our proprietary artificial intelligence and real-time machine learning algorithms on top of the typical contextual layer of categorisation and sentiment analysis.


Next steps

As part of the Hybrid Theory test pilot programme, over the coming quarters we will offer selected groups of clients the opportunity to test these proposals, alongside existing and effective targeting solutions. The post-cookie landscape is still far from stable, and we will be updating you repeatedly in the coming months.

Talk to us to learn more.