Member Exclusive   //   July 27, 2021

CMO Summit Recap: How marketers are adjusting to the delayed phase-out of third-party cookies

Google’s decision to give third-party cookies a stay of execution was welcome news for most marketers, especially those who were behind the curve on preparing for the post-cookie world. While Google just released details for its new timeline to phase out third-party cookies, there is still no clear heir to them in sight. In addition, marketers are navigating a stop-start recovery from COVID-19, while still adapting to the seismic shifts prompted by the pandemic. There are many questions to be asked and no easy answers.

Digiday’s CMO Summit on July 19-20 covered some of the big issues facing marketers in this pivotal year. Some of the sharpest minds in marketing joined us for a series of virtual talks, fireside chats, and more, as we tackled issues like bringing brand purpose to life, the unknown future of identity tracking, and why maneuvering through these times might require a little more courage and patience.

Brands have to find their purpose

Many brands are still struggling to communicate their values and purpose in a way that resonates with consumers. This tension is particularly acute for brands striving to establish trust with Gen Z audiences, who are “making decisions with their wallets,” said Vice Media Group’s Global CMO, Nadja Bellan-White.

The first step is actually knowing what your purpose is. “Have a clear North Star,” said Bellan-White. Brands have to stand for something that existing and potential customers relate to, whether it be empathy, social justice, authenticity, or something else. Critically, brands have to show, not tell. “Watch this space, because a lot of brands that are on top will no longer be there because I’m telling you, you can’t just be a mouthpiece for action,” Bellan-White said. “You actually have to take real action.”

Cheryl Guerin, EVP of Marketing at Mastercard America, talked about how Mastercard has translated its mantra of “doing well by doing good” into real-world action. Guerin said projects like the Strivers Initiative, which provides financial and technological support to help businesses owned by Black women build and leverage their digital presence, are making a real difference. “What’s really important is we didn’t just show up at the worst of times,” Guerin said.

Talk — and listen — to Gen Z

L’Oréal USA Chief Digital & Marketing Officer Marc Toulemonde captured the sentiment of many speakers with his description of “super-inspiring” Gen Zers who are committed to diversity, inclusion and a values-driven approach to consumption. Nadja Bellan-White said the days when young consumers might set aside their discontent with a brand because they like the brand’s products are over.  In fact, Gen Zers are more likely to create their own product and brand to replace the brand that has irked them.

Brands that maintain open, regular communication with Gen Zers and are responsive to what the demographic says are best placed to create products and experiences that are true to Gen Z’s aspirations and needs. America Eagle CMO Craig Brommers said the brand regularly consults a panel of 2,000 Gen Zers to take the pulse on a variety of questions. “At any moment, on any given day, we can ask them what’s the best approach to this opportunity or this issue,” Brommers said. “And they really give us a read on the right tone.” Emily Ketchen, CMO & VP with Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group, talked about drawing on a cohort of customers she described as “corporate trendsetters” — highly accomplished young people around the intersection of Gen Z and millennial generations – to find out how younger people want to interact with technology. “They’re adamant about the kind of technology that they will use, and what is important to them and how they see themselves using that technology,” she said. These insights are shaping the brand’s thinking about the hybrid work models that are emerging as many workers return to offices on a part-time basis. One manifestation of this: A campaign Lenovo ran with lifestyle influencer and Love Squad founder Ally Love.

The search for privacy-friendly identity tracking

Marketers may have breathed a collective sigh of relief when Google announced it was delaying the phase-out of third-party cookies until 2023, but now is the time for action. Cookies are still going away, and the search intensifies for new ways of tracking identity that respect consumer privacy.

Gary Burtka, vp of U.S. operations at RTB House, shared early results of the company’s tests with cookie-free solutions in partnership with Google. After testing around 500 campaigns, they’ve seen 94.5 percent effectiveness in retaining CTR, even without cookies. Meanwhile, publishers were able to retain over 99 percent of their revenue margins. Burtka also stressed the important role contextual targeting will play in the post-cookie landscape.

Data ownership is also going to be critical for brands going forward. Shake Shack CMO Jay Livingston talked about the “low key battle” between restaurants and delivery partners as they compete for customer data. Whether your brand faces this kind of tension with a partner, CMOs need to make sure they’re doing all they can to leverage data collection. Building a customer loyalty program is one solution Shake Shack is looking at, but Livingston said the challenge is figuring out how to ensure the program actually promotes acquisition. “How do we increase frequency without just paying all of our best guests over and over to eat here?” he said.

Testing for success? Be brave

Marketers can’t lean on any one tactic or solution to guarantee success in today’s landscape, but the one consistent truth is that over-reliance on legacy approaches is yielding diminishing returns. The antidote to complacency is the courage to test and learn, and the CMO Summit returned to that theme repeatedly.

America Eagle’s Craig Brommers talked about the importance of leading with innovation on social platforms, citing his company’s success at leveraging Snapchat as a driver of conversions. The brand’s AR-powered Snapchat connected lens has been a hit with Gen Z, who have embraced the tool’s virtual try-ons and a feature that allows friends to shop together. 

Physical retail is bouncing back but will look very different after the pandemic. We heard from brands like American Eagle and L’Oreal about their preparations for the so-called phygital-centric future of retail, from video shopping and consultations with in-store associates to live streaming. “Be curious, and push yourself,” said Brommer.

Marketers don’t always like to hear this, but you’re not going to get it right all the time. “You have to be willing to move quickly and have a level of agility while staying really tightly anchored again to your brand values,” said Emily Ketchen of Lenovo. Humility is your friend, Ketchen said.

Marketers need to be energetic about finding new ways of engaging audiences, new tools and formats, Nadja Bellan-White said. “And by the way, you’re completely able to make it up as you go along,” she added.

WTF is….


Marketers love a portmanteau, and this one refers to the blending of physical and digital realms that gathered steam due to the pandemic. From events to retail, phygital is the new normal. It’s what consumers want, particularly Gen Zs, and creating seamless phygital experiences is an exciting, rewarding challenge for marketers. The technology is now there to make it happen, with ever more sophisticated iterations of AR, VR and AI redefining the limits of what phygital can achieve. “It’s getting more and more blurred,” said L’Oreal Group CMO/CDO Marc Toulemonde. “There is no e-commerce or brick-and-mortar shopping, there is a phygital shopping experience.”


We’ve stabilized the pure hybrid — how do we move to a place where we can thrive in hybrid and we can create technology and solutions for whatever the situation may be?” — Emily Ketchen, CMO & VP, Intelligent Devices Group, Lenovo

  • With many of us returning to the office at least on a part-time basis, the conversation is shifting to how to build models for hybrid workplaces that will be sustainable beyond the pandemic. Emily Ketchen talked about the pivotal role technology will play in facilitating this shift toward a more adaptive, flexible workplace. It’s a decisive test of the ability of businesses and leaders to accommodate the needs and preferences of their employees, and one that will impact the careers of many marketers.

I’ve developed a healthy skepticism of influencers, but they’ve come roaring back during this pandemic, and some of the influencers we’ve worked with, either from a partnership perspective or organically, have really led to some terrific results, and Instagram influencers are delivering as well.” — Craig Brommers, CMO, American Eagle

  • Influencers remain essential partners for many marketers thanks to their enormous reach and ability to create content that resonates with their audience. Of course, as platforms like TikTok come to the fore and livestreaming steadily gains momentum in the U.S., there are changes to the ways marketers work with influencers, but as Craig Brommers said, influencer campaigns and partnerships are still a vital part of any brand’s marketing strategy.

“You cannot put a single point of view and say ‘This is all BIPOC, this is all multicultural so therefore that’s how I’m going to market.’ No, that’s just not how it’s going to work anymore.” — Nadja Bellan-White, Global CMO, Vice Media Group

  • Marketers need to be more sophisticated in the way they speak to BIPOC communities. Too often we see campaigns based on lazy assumptions and painting communities with broad brushstrokes. Nadja Bellan-White urged marketers to consider the diversity that exists within BIPOC communities, and to address consumers on the basis of who they really are. “The different backgrounds, first generation, second generation, those that have grown up here, those that come from multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multicultural backgrounds — all of this is part of the BIPOC community,” she said. Challenge yourself to think more globally, and look to other parts of the world for insight and inspiration. “You can’t just be the CMO of the United States, you have to be a global chief marketing officer,” Bellan-White said. “That means taking into account things that are happening all over the world, and not just what’s happening outside your front door.”
Stat to know

41% of Black-owned businesses had to close their doors, either temporarily or permanently during the pandemic, according to research from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. Cheryl Guerin, EVP of marketing, Mastercard America, cited this stat while discussing brands living their purpose and matching words with actions.