Google’s Topics API is meant to help advertisers target audiences by interest while giving users greater control over privacy. Instead of using third-party cookies to track user behavior across websites, Topics API stores consumer’s browsing behavior in the form of standardized interest categories (aka topics such as Fitness or Travel. You can view the full topic list here) and shares three random topics selected from users’ top five topics each week with advertising partners to inform relevant ad experiences. This proposed solution should result in far greater control and transparency for end-users. However, whether this solution will meet the needs of advertisers and the extent to which the greater adtech community will be able to participate in Topics API remains to be seen.
Google’s Topics API is intended to “replace” the third-party cookie, which Google intends to discontinue by the beginning of 2023. This move is the most recent iteration of Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative and comes on the heels of their original plan to replace third-party cookies with FLoC, Federated Learning of Cohorts. FLoC was intended to work by creating anonymized cohorts based on users’ browsing data to allow advertisers to target audiences, but was abandoned after testing and collecting industry feedback expressed that the solution was unwieldy for both consumers and advertisers and likely didn’t go far enough to protect consumer privacy.1
So far, what we’ve heard from the industry is that Topics API is a definite improvement from the cohort-based FLoC solution. This is mainly because Topics moves entirely away from cookie-like synthetic identifiers while giving users easy-to-understand and accessible control over what data is being used by advertisers to engage with them.
Moreover, the Google Privacy Sandbox team has emphasized the importance of ongoing feedback and partnerships with advertisers, publishers and third-party adtech providers to continue to improve this solution with the stated goal of the Topics taxonomy to be built and maintained by external partners.1 Data Axle highly values data privacy and consumer consent, and we believe that Topics seems to be a step in the right direction to create and sustain a productive and privacy-safe internet.
Privacy-focused policies like Topics API and now Android Privacy Sandbox will continue to change the way advertisers connect with consumers and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The announcement of Topics API has provided needed clarity for advertisers and publishers left wondering what to do when third-party cookies deprecate. While it’s true that programmatic buyers who rely heavily on Chrome for retargeting and third-party audience tactics for prospecting should expect significant disruptions to current buying and attribution capabilities, not all is lost.
Topics API will still allow advertisers some visibility into user interests and browsing activity which, when combined with contextual information should continue to create relevant ad experiences and positive ROI for marketers. That said, there are ways to minimize those disruptions. Focusing on first-party data and partnering directly with third-party data providers can help fill these gaps left by the absence of third-party cookies.
A rising focus on privacy and new regulations continues to change the way advertisers connect with consumers and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The challenge for advertisers in 2022 will be to proactively work to create digital marketing strategies, and focus on measurement and addressability with their adtech and data partners to ensure there’s a plan for continued success.
While Topics API is designed as a stand-alone solution, it’s incumbent on advertisers to understand where Topics API fits in your marketing program and strive to create a diverse network of data and media partners.
Moving forward, consider Topics API one of many tactics in your digital marketing toolkit. However, it’s important to consider how you will continue to reach and engage with customers and prospects across an increasingly siloed media ecosystem. Talk to your agencies, data, and ad tech providers about their plans to address the post-cookie landscape and work internally to clearly define your organization’s digital targeting and measurement priorities moving forward. While user privacy is a positive outcome for marketers and consumers alike, now is the time to push for greater visibility and cooperation across the digital marketing landscape as we transition away from an open internet.
As a third-party data provider, Data Axle can work with you to create future-proof omnichannel solutions to ensure you are getting in front of your target audience, regardless of channel, while adhering to strict privacy standards. Data Axle’s core offline data has always been sourced and operated entirely independent of cookies. By leveraging a vast network of 100+ identity and media partnerships, Data Axle can help you seamlessly transition into the post-cookie media landscape without sacrificing one-on-one communications with the people that matter most.
For over 8 years James Purtle has driven digital data and media strategy for Fortune 500 brands and Agencies. As an expert in predictive marketing, he has created go-to-market strategies for major programmatic Ad Tech and Data Management platforms and currently helps oversee digital activation strategy for Data Axle. In his free time, he enjoys watching movies with his wife and their two dogs and rooting for the Yankees.