Are Third-Party Cookies Dying in 2023?

Marketers are staring down the death of third-party cookies in 2023, and some people are panicking.  History has a tendency of repeating itself. So, what can we learn from some of the biggest digital upsets of our time? Where have other companies either profited from change or lost big by failing to adapt? 

Take the story of Netflix vs. Blockbuster, for example. In this tale, the world’s leading video company collapsed in the face of digital transformation. Seems relevant to one of the biggest digital marketing challenges of our time: the loss of third-party cookies.

Let’s dive into what happened between Netflix and Blockbuster and the relevance for companies today, as well as innovative ways to adapt in the digital marketing space. After all, history may repeat, but the outcome doesn’t have to be the same.

Netflix vs. Blockbuster

Netflix vs. Blockbuster: a classic David-meets-Goliath showdown. In 1997, when Netflix was founded, Blockbuster was a monolith, the undisputed and massively successful leader in the video rental space. Somehow, this little startup called Netflix, with its strange new model of mail-in DVDs, became the David that would topple the giant of the industry. 

How? It’s a simple story of a company’s failure to ask customers what THEY wanted — and failure to get ahead of obvious changing trends.

Now, just 25 years later, Netflix is the undisputed leader in video streaming and TV, with 221.64 million paid subscribers as of the first quarter of 2022. The closest competitor is Disney+, with 129.8 million paid subscribers. Although Netflix has fallen on relatively hard times in early 2022, it is still outpacing the competition by significant margin.

As for Blockbuster, it went from 9,000 stores around the world at its peak to just one final store, hanging on to nostalgia in Bend, Oregon. There’s even a documentary — ironically, streaming on Netflix — about that store. 

Blockbuster failed to understand or recognize the imminent change to video consumption. Customer needs and expectations were evolving, with an increased focus on convenient accessibility of video and TV. Netflix, on the other hand, capitalized on that change. People were shifting away from in-store experiences, in favor of easier access, bringing DVDs right to their front door. And then, of course, came streaming in 2007, where Netflix used the Internet to send TV and movies right into people’s living rooms.

The rest is history. 

The death of digital marketing 

It may seem like a stretch, but the tale of Netflix vs. Blockbuster is an important lesson for companies that want to stay competitive in a changing world. 

Blockbuster may have seen that trends were changing, but they didn’t adapt or leverage new technology to get ahead of that change. The fast pace of innovation can seem scary — but the key to adapting to the trends is understanding your customers’ wants and needs. Traditionally, companies have done this through digital marketing, using third-party cookies to track customer behavior and predict their needs. 

But a change is coming, just like it did to Blockbuster.

With Google’s announcement that the third-party cookie is going away in 2023, companies are scrambling to figure out how they’ll access the data they need to power effective digital marketing efforts. Hundreds of thousands of companies built a digital strategy based on this third-party data.

In 2023 and beyond, companies will need to adopt a Netflix mindset. They’ll need a much more intelligent and flexible approach. 

This change highlights an important fact about adaptable companies: They are always asking the question, “Are we too reliant on this technology?” It’s important for these companies to always seek out ways to diversify, to ensure a single strategy isn’t their only ticket to marketing success.

Get ahead of the times

Progress is good, but it means the marketplace is always changing. Businesses that succeed understand this and are ready to predict changes, understand evolving customer preferences, and adapt accordingly.

In fact, adaptable companies have been eyeing the death of third-party cookies for a long time. Privacy concerns have increased over the past decade, and government regulations have started to creep into the digital marketing space. 

So, before the change happens in 2023, adaptable companies can (and should) adopt new and more sustainable marketing strategies. Here are a few ideas:

  • First-party cookies aren’t going away and could be a major player in your marketing strategy. Companies should build out their digital strategies around their own cookies and innovate on the ways they can use this information. 
  • Revitalize your traditional marketing strategies. Establish tools and technology that can support contextual advertising, which can be just as effective as targeted individual ads.
  • Learn more about the new tools Google is rolling out, like its Privacy Sandbox. The more you can learn about Google’s new tools, the better you’ll be able to leverage them for your marketing strategy or adjust your tactics to meet new rules and algorithms.

Most of all, companies need to invest in new technology. Third-party cookies may become a relic of the past — but what new technologies are right around the corner? 

It’s likely that machine learning, artificial intelligence, and real-time predictive analytics will rise in popularity and effectiveness, all of which can be leveraged via your own data. 

Instead of falling behind the curve, it’s time to get ahead of the impending changes. Leverage state-of-the-art machine learning and data analytics to push beyond what you could do with third-party cookies. Think like Netflix, not Blockbuster.

What could you do with better data? Learn more at