Fallout’s lesson of collaboration for advertisers navigating the cookie apocalypse

As the cookie crumbles, Hugh Stevens navigates the change with the help of Fallout

Hugh Stevens

UK MD LiveRamp


The world of TV and film is littered with game-to-live-action adaptations that failed to land with audiences, however, Amazon Prime has an undisputed hit with its Fallout series.

Based on a series of role-playing games launched in 1997, the TV show is set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles in 2296, two centuries after a nuclear war. The story follows a young woman named Lucy, who emerges from her fallout bunker (or ‘Vault’) to navigate the wasteland and the strange and potentially dangerous characters who live there.

The world of digital advertising has also been facing the prospect of an apocalypse for the past few years, in the form of third-party cookie deprecation. While its ‘Judgement Day’ may have been postponed, with Google’s most recent announcement to delay final deprecation on Chrome until 2025, advertisers are still facing a stark choice.

While its ‘Judgement Day’ may have been postponed, with Google’s most recent announcement to delay final deprecation on Chrome until 2025, advertisers are still facing a stark choice.

Hugh Stevens, UK MD at LiveRamp

Do they ‘vault’ themselves away and choose to spend more of their ad budgets within the confines of the giant platforms, or do they, like Lucy, strike out into the open, and face the unknown of the Open Web? The transition is unquestionably daunting. However, the key to success, as the show suggests, is collaboration with some on-the-surface unlikely partners.

A new world of collaboration

In reality, the post-cookie era is already here, with browsers such as Safari and Firefox operating without cookies for several years. Many advertisers are already using cookieless solutions to build new futures, exploring the lucrative opportunities enabled by data collaboration with a variety of partners. Nevertheless, let’s not underestimate the scale of the change that the ad industry is being asked to make.

The phase-out of cookies is a historic event. It’s a huge step for an industry that has been built around the identifier for almost a quarter of a century, to evolve in a way that instead puts transparency for the consumer at the forefront. Any failure to embrace this change could be costly for brands, especially as consumers continue to demand personalised marketing that simultaneously respects their privacy.

The cornerstone of this new ecosystem is first-party data, which is gathered from a company’s direct interactions with its customers and collected with their explicit permission. Many businesses already have access to swathes of this type of data, such as through email subscriptions, website checkouts, apps, and purchase history. Unfortunately, many businesses still have these datasets warehoused in complex infrastructures, so business decision-makers are often unable to access the data they need.

To help adapt to life beyond cookies, brands need to do their best to hone their own first-party data strategies. This means auditing internal structures and leveraging technologies that can make the customer data they hold actionable and addressable. Namely, data clean rooms, which can facilitate safe data collaboration.

Data collaboration simply means bringing together data from a number of sources so that all contributors benefit, of which there are four main types:

  • Collaboration across the enterprise. Breaking down silos and democratising data within the business, so that everyone has access to the data they need to do their job.
  • Collaboration with peers (peer-2-peer). Complementary brands can pool resources to deliver a better customer experience. The classic examples being a CPG brand and a retailer, or a hotel chain and an airline. Even if you can access your own customer data, it only provides part of the picture. No one has complete oversight over the full customer journey, meaning collaboration with partners is increasingly essential. Potential partners can be within the same vertical, or they can be from completely different worlds, with non-endemic brands sometimes presenting the more lucrative partnership opportunities.
  • Collaboration with agencies. Safe, secure access to brand data enables agencies to deliver a better experience to the end customer across any media channel. The reverse allows brands a deeper, more detailed understanding of the performance of those channels.
  • Collaboration with data providers. This could involve suppliers of third-party demographic or psychographic data, such as Experian. Or owners of purchase data, such as Mastercard.

The benefits of collaboration

In Fallout, much of the first season focuses on the burgeoning partnerships between three unlikely partners, as they collaborate to achieve shared goals. As in life, the best collaborations are not only transactional. They can also deepen partnerships and deliver strategic benefits. For example, data collaboration between a retailer and a CPG brand means both can develop a better understanding of their mutual customers.

Beyond that, greater trust between the two parties encourages greater innovation, since success will benefit both. We’ve seen this in our work with Boots in particular over the past few years. Allowing brands access to Advantage Card data – via data collaboration – to inform their ad targeting on Boots’ online properties was a business success. It also led to the formation of Boots Media Group and the expansion of improved targeting to the open web.

At a time when CMOs are being asked to deliver more with less, we’re already seeing big swings in spending away from unaddressable, unmeasurable media channels. Instead, budget is going into those channels that allow brands to better utilise their customer data to understand which levers to pull to drive growth. This is where data collaboration is key to operational and media efficiency.

Just like in the world of Fallout, working with partners out there waiting for you opens up plenty of opportunities for mutual gain. Uniting datasets via clean rooms can form a comprehensive, customer-level view for full-funnel measurement and move beyond performance metrics to help measure brand-specific outcomes.

In the end, the demise of the third-party cookie is not a reason for advertisers to despair. Rather, it is an opportunity for brands to start collaborating with others utilising consented first-party data to rebuild a better digital advertising ecosystem for everyone involved.

Guest Author

Hugh Stevens

UK MD LiveRamp


Hugh Stevens is the UK MD at LiveRamp