Google recently announced a new proposal for enabling interest-based advertising in Chrome: Topics API. Topics is intended to replace the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) proposal as Google’s solution to the decline of cookie-based tracking.
Is that good news for brands?
How Topics will work
Topics API targets users by interest (topic) like FLoC, but while the FLoC proposal planned to assign users to cohorts based on shared interests, Topics uses a user’s browsing history to generate personal, topic-level interests, like “travel” or “fitness,” and shares three of them with publishers each week. In order to protect user privacy, Topics will not share any “sensitive” topics, like race or gender, and browsing data will only be saved in the user's browser, not an external database, for three weeks before being deleted.
Users also have the opportunity to edit the topics shared with publishers, and can opt out of Topics all together, if they wish. The additional privacy measures are intended to quell concerns from users, while still offering publishers some options for interest-based advertising.
How Topics is different from FLoC
One of the major complaints about FLoC was that the proposed solution was so technically and conceptually complex, few experts saw how it could be usable in the real world. It was unclear how FLoC could be integrated into buying platforms, and that lack of clarity prompted pushback from both users and regulators.
Ultimately, FLoC never made it out of alpha-stage testing, so it’s impossible to know how it would have performed in practice compared to Topics. However, the Topics API proposal is much less complicated and easier to conceptualize than FLoC, which leads us to believe it will be a more effective solution, and easier for brands to adapt to.
Will Topics make targeting easier?
Initially, Topics will offer 350 interest-based audiences, compared to the 32,000 interest-based cohorts proposed by FLoC, which means advertisers will have fewer audiences to choose from. The Topics proposal suggests that additional topics will be added over time, but for now, Topics gives brands fewer targeting options than FLoC planned to offer. However, we believe Topics is likely to benefit brands more than FLoC, if only because it is easier to understand, and therefore easier to plan for and put into practice.
Topics is primarily intended to address privacy concerns, not refine user targeting capabilities, so brands should take the initiative now to adapt their data and targeting practices to work with Topics and its limitations.
How can brands compensate for the limitations of Topics API?
What remains to be seen is how campaigns based on Topics will be measured, and how browser-specific solutions like Topics will scale in a segmented advertising ecosystem.
Brands should be working with their agencies and industry partners now to offer feedback to Google on the Topics taxonomy and other key questions, which is their best chance to have a say in how Topics will be implemented.
But the most important thing brands can do to adapt to this and other upcoming shifts in post-cookie digital advertising is to focus on collecting first party data and making the best use of the data they can own.
If you’re not sure your current data strategy positions you well for the future of digital advertising, learn more about Kepler’s Data Readiness Consulting service.