The End of Cookies Does Not Mean the End of Effective Targeting

Oscar Ruiz

by Oscar Ruiz

Media Manager

For years, marketers have relied on cookies to help track consumers across the web and deliver relevant messages right to their screens. But Google’s recent announcement to eliminate third-party cookies in favor of first-party data, joining Firefox and Safari, has created a seismic shift in the way marketers think about digital marketing. So, how can you ensure your brand is ready?

“What is a cookie?”

FAIR WARNING. This is where we geek out a bit on the inner workings of the world wide web. If you already understand how cookies work, or if you don’t really care and just want to know how to work around the issue, please feel free to jump ahead to the next section.

A cookie is a tiny snippet of code that gets added and stored in your web browser when you visit a particular website. From a technical perspective, first-party and third-party cookies are very similar. They can do the same things, store the same types of information, and they both perform the same function. However, they are very different in how they were created and how they are used.

A first-party cookie is created by a website you visit directly, and allows the site operator to collect analytics data and remember settings and information about you. For example:say you are doing some online shopping for Christmas, and you go to Nordstrom.com, which adds a first-party cookie to your browser. That cookie then keeps track of your shopping cart; keeps you logged in while you switch between your different shopping pages; and stores your information, like username, address, and payment information, for a quick checkout process.

Third-party cookies are different, as they are being placed on the site you are visiting by a different company or brand (which is why they are called third-party cookies). This information is then used to follow a user across connected devices and target them with personalized advertising messaging based on previous online behavior.

“Stop Following Me”

Third-party cookies are super common in digital advertising. However, there are growing privacy concerns around them because of many data privacy scandals with companies misusing and abusing data from consumers.

Among the most notable of these growing concerns is how data is collected, used and shared online. In fact, searches for “online privacy” have grown globally by more than 50% year over year. Therefore, data privacy regulations laws like the GDPR and CCPA have been introduced. But it is not just the government setting new laws and regulations; technology companies are also coming forward with new policies that restrict commonly used identifiers.

In the center of all of this of course is the giant: Google. Earlier this year, they announced that they will be phasing out third-party cookies on all Chrome browsers over the next two years. Google Chrome owns 64% of the web browser market share. So, the decision to remove their third-party cookie tracking will have a sizable impact on billions of websites and advertisers.

“What Do I Do?”

The end of third-party cookies impacts “how” measurement and targeting is performed, but it does not mean these capabilities are lost. Non-cookie targeting options are already available today and are widely used by savvy marketers. At Marriner, we’ve found these tactics have yielded better results than third-party audience targeting for our customers.

Some of those tactics include:

  • Contextual: an ad which is in direct correlation to the content of the web page the user is viewing.
  • Behavioral: relevant ads and messages to users based on their web-browsing behavior.
  • Hyperlocal: target the desired audience in a highly specific, geographically restricted area, sometimes within just a few blocks or streets.
  • Cross-Device: help extend our ad message to find a user anywhere, by targeting through their other electronic devices.
  • Retargeting: without a reliance on cookies, we can retarget users by click, search term, site visit, video completion or device.

That is not to say that the end to third-party cookies is not a big deal. But it is just one arrow taken out of our quiver. Some will tell you that they have developed a workaround to the cookie issue that provides the same basic capabilities. But we are wary of those claims. Attempts at workarounds amount to privacy-violating “covert tracking,” a black-hat practice most brands brand do not want to be associated with. Apple, Mozilla and Google have already stated opposition to any such efforts and will fight vigorously to block those attempts.

We all want to improve our media performance, but without the use of cookies or infringing on our audience’s privacy. Utilizing anonymized data sources, such as U.S. Census, American Community Survey and North American Industry Classification System, will strengthen local insights and allow for smarter decisioning to improve performance and eliminate wasted impressions. Natural language processing, in which the semantics and tone of your message is understood and aligns with the environment that is serving your content, is becoming more popular as well. All of these solutions may prove more effective and less expensive than third-party audience data.

“Can You Help?”

Marriner is preparing for the future, being on top of the industry, making sure we are ahead of any changes and tools that are being offered. While the methods used and the technology constantly evolve, the fundamentals of online advertising still ring true. That is why the subject matter experts at Marriner are able to adapt so successfully.

So, to the marketers out there–fear not. We will get your messages in front of the people who need to see them. And to the web users out there–we will find you and deliver to you exceptionally crafted, incredibly relevant advertising! Because, as Jim Carrey famously said to wrap all of his news stories in the comedy great Bruce Almighty, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.” (Sorry, couldn’t help ourselves!)

True collaboration happens when you have a partner who shares your enthusiasm. Get in touch with David Melnick, VP of Strategic Partnerships, at 410.336.1000 or davidm@marriner.com to discuss opportunities to work together.

 

SOURCES:

Graham, Megan. Google says it won’t use new ways of tracking you as it phases out browser cookies for ads, CNBC, March 2021.
Schuh, Justin. Building a more private web: A path towards making third party cookies obsolete, Chromium Blog, January 2020.

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