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Hello, Topics: What Google’s Latest Privacy Sandbox Update Means for Marketers
Feb 8, 2022

Last week, Privacy Sandbox, the Google-led initiative that’s developing cross-industry solutions to deliver interest-based ads while preserving consumer privacy and choice on the internet, introduced Topics API, it’s latest in a series of technology proposals designed to create a more private, but still economically-viable, web. Topics, which replaces FLoCs (Federated Learning of Cohorts), is intended to give publishers and brands access to the data needed to sell and buy personalized ads while continuing to provide consumers free access to content and services they know and love. 

First things first. What exactly are Topics?

Topics, as the name suggests, are interest tags assigned to users via their browser based on what kinds of websites they visit. For example, if you spend time on sites related to exercise, “Fitness” will likely be one of your Topics. Advertisers can then target or personalize their ads to groups of users based on the Topics they share rather than using personal data from individual users to achieve similar goals. 

Users can remove Topics at any time or opt out of the Topics system entirely, all within their browser. Consumer information is secure since Topics data is stored within a user’s browser, not shared with various publisher sites and ad tech intermediaries via 3rd-party cookies which Google will phase out in its Chrome browser by 2023. 

What makes Topics different from FLoCs?

While FLoCs used artificial intelligence to group users into audience cohorts based on their internet activity, Topics skips the AI and boils a consumer’s interests down to easy-to-understand tags that summarize the types of content they enjoy seeing online.

Topics is a simple, yet advanced system for interest-based advertising that uses web browser settings as a consumer-friendly preference center. FLoCs on the other hand required consumers to understand the nuances of opaque AI algorithms in order to grasp why they were seeing a specific ad. 

Get more detail about FLoCs and the trends leading up to the end of third-party cookies.

What should marketing teams start doing to prepare for the arrival of Topics?

In a market where 64% of users opt for Google Chrome as their primary web browser, Topics, and the open web API that will likely support its use with ad tech providers outside of the Google ecosystem, are technologies marketers should familiarize themselves with at the very least because of the scale and strength of Google’s advertising ecosystem.

Based on our work with leading global advertisers, many of which have already developed consumer-centric creative strategies in the wake of European privacy legislation, here are our tips for navigating a transition to Topics:

Develop agile marketing processes. In this latest proposal, the Google Privacy Sandbox team suggests that a consumer’s Topics can change as frequently as every three weeks. Refreshing ad creative for cross-channel campaigns is no easy feat on any timeline, so adding media and creative experts to refresh campaigns and finding technology to fill workflow gaps is a must in a world where the relevance of advertising is more important than ever. 

Expect diminishing returns from media optimizations. The simplified targeting capabilities Google shared in Topics mirror updates Meta, formerly Facebook, have been making to their platform’s targeting categories since 2020 to improve ad experiences for consumers and advertisers alike. As platforms reduce the number of media levers advertisers have at their disposal to achieve incremental growth, marketers should be conscious that addressing the media part of the advertising equation alone may not be enough anymore to be successful. 

Turn to your ad creative as a lever for performance. As the industry grapples with what media optimization will look like without cookies and as more ad dollars flow to closed ecosystems with their own targeting capabilities, marketing leaders are looking to the actual content of their ads to drive performance. Advances are being made to measure and monitor how individual creative elements drive performance, since according to experts like Comscore, ad quality can drive sales up by 50%. Creative is the next frontier for boosting advertising performance.

As industry analysts have already pointed out, Google’s latest proposal is just one in a series of ongoing, industry-wide changes designed to protect consumer privacy while preserving an ad-supported internet which in the US alone, contributes 12% to GDP. As our industry at large reconciles meeting consumer needs while growing businesses, every marketer should keep one ear to the ground while building sustainable strategies to thrive in an ad-supported internet that looks quite different from the one we know today.

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