GroupM agrees to new program that lets clients experiment within Google’s Privacy Sandbox

In January 2024, one of the most anxiety-inducing developments in the digital media landscape’s commercial history will begin in earnest: Google sunsetting third-party cookies in its Chrome web browser.

True, rival web browsers, such as Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox, made this move years ago. However, Chrome’s global market share, 63%, according to Statcounter, makes Google’s subsequent move an undeniable market-making moment.

So, as Google’s Chrome team prepares to deactivate third-party cookies for a limited group of Chrome users (specifically 1% in the first quarter of 2024, beginning in January), media buyers seek reassurance with WPP’s GroupM taking the opportunity to announce a tie-up with the online giant.

‘Readiness program’

This takes the guise of the duo’s “post-cookie readiness program,” a joint initiative with the Chrome team to test APIs within Google’s Privacy Sandbox, which GroupM describes as a “first-to-market” scheme.

GroupM’s global CEO Christian Juhl described the initiative as enabling “our clients to test existing preparations and enable us to develop new approaches where necessary” in a press release announcing the program.

Per the statement, the duo will design a “unified framework” to work collaboratively with advertisers and ad tech partners to understand privacy technologies better, per guidelines laid out by the U.K.’s Competition Markets Authority — the defacto global regulator for Google’s Privacy Sandbox plans.

Methods involve working with a “select number of clients” — GroupM was unable to confirm the number of or name, participating brands — to test the Privacy Sandbox APIs and then reflect on the most effective campaign activity.

Clients will also learn from the collective by aggregating results at an anonymized level.
Richard Mooney

According to Richard Mooney, global chief data and technology officer at EssenceMediacom, a GroupM agency, participation in the program is an opportunity to directly influence the Privacy Sandbox APIs as Google’s Chrome team looks to evolve the offering.

“This gives us the opportunity to really test the theories that have been written about and deliver it to general availability,” he said during a briefing session with journalists. “They [participating clients] will also learn from the collective by aggregating results at an anonymized level.”

He added, “Basically, this is taking everything that we’ve learned and understood over the course of the last few years and applying it within a live environment, allowing our advertisers to truly understand the impact on their marketing efficacy.”

According to a press release from the duo, all tests will be conducted using existing media plans and budget, with no mandatory additional investment.

Speaking separately with Digiday recently, Michael Neveu, senior director of machine learning and AI solutions for Media.Monks recounted how his company was likewise experimenting with transitioning to the new dawning era in Privacy Sandbox. In this scenario, agencies will have much less user data to hone their ad campaigns (compared to now) with some ad tech providers, such as demand-side platforms, removing features that rely on third-party cookies.

The success, or failure, of GroupM’s efforts to win clients over to its Privacy Sandbox readiness program, is likely to be critical to its planned turnaround strategy as the media-buying outfit prepares for the exit of its North America CEO Kirk McDonald amid a series of setbacks including client losses, and flat revenue forecasts.

Historic precedent

Bob Walczak, CEO of MadTech, told Digiday that having a centralized framework for managing first-party data is critical with the former GroupM staffer (he spent several years working at its posthumous trading desk Xaxis) observing some similarities between its current strategy and earlier eras.

“Because there’s so much at risk with first-party data, having a consistent framework for managing privacy and identity, identity resolution is necessary,” he said, observing similarities to GroupM’s recent moves (including the launch of global data company Choreograph) and how Xaxis used Turbine. “It could be similar to using a facility to leverage data across brands to be able to use a DMP [data management platform] or a center of excellence to help understand all things DMP,” he added.

GroupM attempted similar moves to reinvent its offering with the launch of mPlatform in 2016 as clients began questioning the vast markups of programmatic media buys at Xaxis. Similarly, privacy requirements were starting to take priority as laws such as the EU’s GDPR entered into statute.

Sources previously told Digiday the early intentions for mPlatform were to be GroupM’s one-stop-shop for ad tech, but early but within three years of its initial expectations with clients expressing concern at having their first-party data co-mingled with other brands, according to accounts.

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