As you probably know and probably takes 90% of the space in your brain dedicated to the Ad Industry, for a while now, Google has been taking more and more steps on its way to guarantee its users’ privacy safety. Meaning they are taking more and more actions to prevent their competitors from even getting closer to their #1 position in the Ad giants podium. A couple of months ago they forbid the use of third-party cookies, then they went ahead and made a secret Ad deal with Facebook, and we definitely can’t leave aside their content policies, which seem to be growing crazier every day.
So none of us should have gotten surprised when they came up with this brand new awesome problem-solving strategy named FLoC, or Federal Learning of Cohorts, or, you know, the groups of sheep that just go along altogether. And it didn’t take long until the whole Ad world decided they hated FLoCs, so much that if you google “Google’s FLoC”, all you get is a huge list of articles dedicated to rip FLoCs apart. But that’s not why we are here today.
So, first of all, let’s talk about what FLoCs are really all about. FLoCs were born as a replacement for third-party cookies, and are meant to be used as an alternative to target your Ads by users’ interest. You know how cookies were like a little chip installed on people’s computers to track their activity and help advertisers determine who’d be the best audience for their Ads? Well, FLoCs are meant to help with the same problem, only they are a different solution. FLoCs are groups of users brought together by having similar browser histories. So much for users’ privacy, huh?
So basically what this states is that there can be, and actually are, thousands of people in the world that share your exact same interests, hence, should be targeted for the same Ads as you are. Ever since the world began (not to get all wrapped up in big-bang issues, just as a general beginning of humanity), humans have been seeking more and more to highlight from their groups. They’ve searched for original ways to show the rest who they are, and how different is that from others. And this is a good thing, people need to believe they are special because that’s how we all get through life. That was until Google came in and said “haha, no.”
If you go right now to my browser history, what you’ll find is “Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions”, “PPC Tools for tracking”, “Records Taylor Swift has broken”, “Which Taylor Swift combination of songs am I”, “Google Ads content policies”, “Yoga for lazy people”, “Sweeney Todd in The Office”, “When was Sweeney Todd written?”, “Link Google Forms to spreadsheets”, “When’s Broadway reopening?”, and “Display Ads of bank campaigns”, among others. So if there’s anyone out there who shares these exact searches, then I challenge you to a duel because I simply could not live with that idea. Or let me buy you a coffee and let’s talk about how Reputation is Taylor Swift’s best album and how Andy Bernard’s version of The Ballad of Sweeney Todd just rocked it.
So leaving jokes aside, it just seems strange to me that there’s actually a possibility of conforming groups of people with the exact same interests. Hey, I don’t need to be convinced that I am, in fact, unique, but what are the odds of having thousands of people in the world who share your same exact browser history? Go ahead and call me Old-School, but to me, this whole FLoC thing seems strange. Or, at least, a little bit dehumanizing.
So an interesting tangent to go through here is actually how effective FLoCs will end up being. If these groups need to be wide enough so they can fit in people that has just some similar interests (because I refuse to believe that there’s a chance of having thousands of people with the exact same ones), then there’s a big chance of having your Ads targeted to people who actually don’t even care about them, and just happens to share some interest with someone who might care. Let’s say you and I both agree that Taylor Swift is the best artist to ever have existed, so we share a FLoC. But then, you start getting all these Ads about Online Marketing just because I’ve been doing some research about it, and you actually happen to be a surgeon who couldn’t care less about it. What a waste of Ads, isn’t it?
And even if Google actually decided to make me happy and let me have my FLoC of one, haven’t we had the opportunity to see that Ads targeted by individuals can end up backfiring? Yes, we’ve had it. So there’s really no way out here: Either they rip out people from their sense of special-ness and end up having Ads targeted in a way that’s just too superficial, or they embrace their users’ uniqueness and simply go ahead and show us they are stalking us. Because we already know they are, so what’s the harm in just going all transparent about it?
To conclude, I believe Google took a fair shot at replacing third-party cookies, but it just seems that FLoC won’t be useful for anyone, and can only look like anti-competitive and very lame ways to pretend they care for their users’ privacy. At this point, I don’t even think I care if Google is completely aware of every aspect of my life, I just wish they were more honest about it and came up with ideas that actually helped improve the Advertising world. And hey, last but not least, if you happen to actually be interested in Taylor Swift, theatre, yoga, The Office, and Online Marketing, then I’ll definitely be waiting for your email to soon become a FLoC of more than one!
Mora is a PPC Analyst at Hellbent Digital at work, and a theater nerd when not at work. And it turns out understanding theater—that is, how to put on compelling live shows that engage the audience—is a very useful skill for understanding digital marketing.