Effective: October 19, 2020

What is it?

Google’s personalized advertising targets users with more relevant content, thus improving the experience for users while increasing the ROI for advertisers. However, the new policy will add restrictions to businesses when it comes to targeting.

From Google:

“In an effort to improve inclusivity for users disproportionately affected by societal biases; housing, employment, and credit products or services can no longer be targeted to audiences based on gender, age, parental status, marital status, or ZIP code.” 

For the past 10 years Google's ad policies have prevented brands from targeting users based on their identity, beliefs or sexuality. 

I'm not surprised by these new policy updates. Three years I predicted the demise of ads thanks to, at the time, bots and ad blockers destroying ad buys.

Now we're seeing the fight for privacy and control of personal data becoming part of the narrative, driven by government regulations. 

Many of these changes are rooted in a 2016 ProPublica report which found that Facebook allowed the placement of housing ads that excluded certain ethnic affinities. Then in March of 2019, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged Facebook with housing discrimination, while at the same time putting Twitter and Google on alert as well. 

These government regulations threaten the profits of the biggest technology firms as their profits are closely tied to advertisement revenue. 

Why is this important?

In addition to these recent policy changes from Google and Facebook, financial brand marketers must be aware of the continued growing rise in both ad fraud and ad blockers. 

Ad fraud is the digital advertising industry's dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about.

Platforms don't want to talk about it. Ad networks and exchanges don't want to talk about it. Digital ad agencies don't want to talk about it. 


Because billions of dollars are at play.

According to PYMNTS.com, "The global digital ad market is expected to be valued at $225 billion by 2020, so it is no wonder fraudsters are trying to steal a piece of the pie. Advertisers will lose a projected $5.8 billion to $42 billion to fraudsters this year alone."

Furthermore, emarketer.com found that even though fraud detection is difficult to track, advertisers are still estimated to lose billions in 2020 alone.

The challenges of ad fraud are then compounded by the continued rise and increase in ad blockers. 

To top it all off, we have the coming "cookie-pocalypse." 

In January of 2020, Google made a big announcement that they are phasing out third-party cookies over the next 2 years. With Google phasing out third-party cookies, consumers' data will now be centralized and only accessible when Chrome determines a consumer does not want to be anonymous. 

What does that mean for businesses? Digital ads are going to be less effective and will continue to change the entire landscape for digital ad companies and the entire digital marketing strategy for financial brands.

Google's coming "cookie-pocalypse" does not come as a surprise and actually follows trends from other browsers like Safari shipping with native ad blockers. In September 2017, Apple's native browser, Safari, introduced Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) and cookie time limits. Then, in September 2019, Firefox introduced  Enhanced Tracking Protection (ETP) that blocks third-party cookies. 

So, in essence, Google was late to the game to prevent third-party cookie tracking.

But of course, there is a reason for this delay: money

the most important thing to note in this big tech showdown: The majority of Google’s revenue model is based on ads. Apple's revenue model is not.

When it comes to Google out third-party cookies, my bet is Google is doing this for their own good (not consumers even though it is positioned that way) and making this play to drive even more revenue away from Facebook ads and into Google's paid search.

How does this impact you and your financial brand?

When it comes to digital ad policies, it is becoming even more increasingly difficult for financial brand marketers to keep up with the ongoing changes.

Only those managing digital ad strategies, placement, and budgets internally are aware of these changes because they are notified when they log into their Google ad account.

The biggest challenge here is that each time an ad policy changes, so must the ad strategy. 

When financial brand marketers are already stretched thin, they don't have time to stop, learn, and apply those learnings going forward. And as a result, they end up feeling confused, frustrated and overwhelmed.

This is why (1) investment in ongoing training must become a central piece for a marketing team's growth strategy because of all the exponential changes that occur in the digital space and (2) a financial brand marketing team's AQ (adaptability quotient) will be a competitive advantage to quickly pivot and transform strategies and habits.

Furthermore, there is a level of risk for many small to mid-size asset financial brands that rely on third-party digital ad agencies to manage the implementation of their digital ad strategies. As ad rules continue to change, will digital ad agencies provide recommendations on next best steps forward, or are they simply awaiting orders from their financial brand clients?

Finally, the biggest risk for this particular policy update from Google compared to others is how Google will penalize advertisers that don’t comply. According to Google, "Ads and extensions that don't follow Google Ads policies will be disapproved. A disapproved ad won't be able to run until the policy violation is fixed and the ad is approved." 

Furthermore, Google notes, "Remarketing lists that don’t follow the Personalized advertising policy may be disabled, meaning that these lists can no longer be used with ad campaigns, and new users won’t be added to the lists. List creation restrictions may apply to both individual web pages and entire websites or apps." 

And finally, and most troubling, is the fact that Google shares, "Accounts may be suspended if we find violations of our policies or the Terms & Conditions."

Just like Facebook, with these policy changes from Google it is becoming crystal clear who has the power and control in the digital space... and it is not banks and credit unions. 

All audience type categories for ads will be negatively impacted by this policy update, each of which had its own unique opportunity to create value. For example, financial brands will no longer be able to use in-market audiences like they once were to reach people close to completing a purchase, like buying a home or a car, using age or zip code.

The impacts to the credit category will be greatly felt by financial brands that use the Google ad network to generate awareness, traffic, and leads for auto loans, credit cards, and home loans --the biggest three revenue drivers for interest income on the consumer side.

What can you do about it right now?

Ensure there is not a violation of Google's new ad policy (targeting gender, age, parental status, marital status, and zip code) on any current or active ad campaign.

To prevent any potential problems, flagging, or even possible suspension of ad accounts, financial brands must review all Google ad campaign settings and verify audience targeting on all campaigns are in compliance with the new ad policies BEFORE October 19, 2020.

What does this mean for your long-term strategy?

The digital buying journey is much more complex than two stops: awareness created with an advertisement (TV, radio, print, direct mail, digital) to conversion (traditionally in the branch with digital challenges still present in 2020). In fact, there is an entire micro-journey a consumer navigates through in the consideration stage. 

Now is the time for financial brand marketing, sales, and leadership teams to confidently commit to help first and sell second. The path forward for financial brand marketing teams is rooted in transforming their marketing departments to operate more like content/media brands.

Content will drive organic search while email marketing automation strategies can become hyper-targeted, just like ads. The good news here is email is an asset the financial brand owns while ads are leased on someone else's digital property and real estate. This is why email must be viewed as a strategic asset where there is a monetary value placed on the email database. And the same is true for content as strategic evergreen content pieces can create value through an organic search over an extended period of time. 

However, viewing email and content as a valuable strategic asset will only happen when a commitment from the top empowers marketing teams to create space and time to build digital assets, audiences, and communities that their financial brand owns -- not third parties like Facebook or Google. 

I predict that email and SEO is about to go through their second golden age as ad challenges will continue to increase in the years to come. 

This environmental change creates an opportunity for financial brands and consumers to finally begin to collaborate together. 

The days of pushing products -- a flawed idea held over from legacy broadcast and direct marketing strategies -- FINALLY might be dead.