Cookies have been an important part of the marketing world for thirty years. Vlad Gozman (@vladgozman), Founder and CEO of involve.me, writes, “In 1992, Netscape made history by inventing the cookie, enabling websites to remember user information and preferences. This simple invention sparked the digital advertising revolution, and cookies quickly became the lifeblood of the online ecosystem. Today, the digital advertising industry is worth over $600 billion, and cookies are responsible for a large part of that.” But things are changing. There is an old children’s song entitled “Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?” whose lyrics could be sung by today’s marketers. They are: “Who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? Google stole the cookies from the cookie jar. Who me? Yes you. Couldn’t be. Then who? Apple stole the cookies from the cookie jar.” Cookies haven’t actually been stolen. It’s more like they are suffering a slow, lingering death.
Gozman reports, “The cookie is dying. In response to user privacy concerns, Apple, Google and Mozilla have all announced plans to phase out support for third-party cookies in their web browsers. This will have a profound impact on the digital advertising ecosystem and could lead to the slow death of the cookie.” He adds, “The loss of third-party cookies will make it much harder for advertisers to track users across the web and serve them targeted ads. This will lead to less effective advertising and could reduce the overall size of the digital advertising industry. In addition, the loss of cookies will make it harder for publishers to monetize their websites, as they will no longer be able to sell targeted advertising.”
Prepare Now for the Cookieless Future
Elise Stieferman, Director of Marketing and Business Strategy at Coegi, insists that waiting for the cookie funeral before doing something is a bad strategy. She writes, “The ‘cookieless future’ has been much-discussed during the last few years, with plenty of opinions coming from marketers (like myself). However, the vast majority are not prepared to take action. It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling that there’s plenty of time, especially with the announcement that Google’s new target date for blocking third-party cookies has been delayed until 2024. Sure, there’s always the possibility Google could delay once again, but the reality is inevitable. There will be a day when cookie-based targeting and tracking will be gone. Inaction today will result in failure in the future.”
Like Stieferman, Chloe Nicholls, head of ad tech at IAB UK, believes marketers must be proactive in the face of the cookie apocalypse. “It’s time to ditch the cookieless rhetoric,” she writes. “This is for one simple reason. By its very nature, cookieless — and, by extension, the death, demise or deadline of the cookie — fixates us on what’s being lost and blinds us to what we stand to gain. Of course, there is no getting away from the fact that the deprecation of third-party cookies and other identifiers is a profound change that throws up challenges, but it is also a change rooted in opportunity.”
One of the reasons Stieferman insists the cookie’s demise is inevitable is the rise of data privacy laws. Gozman reports, “Privacy regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act are making it harder for companies to collect and use personal data. These regulations could have a chilling effect on the cookie ecosystem, as they make it more costly and risky for companies to collect and use data.” However, Jo Hayes, Director of Data Insights and Analytics at Barbarian, believes that demonizing data isn’t helpful. She explains, “Data is good. Often it is essential. It has the power to offer insights into consumers, verify the value of marketing, and prevent brand crises. … But it’s only as good as how much it can understand — and appreciate — its creator, the consumer.” Making the consumer the focus of data collection, protection, and analysis will help marketers thrive in the cookieless future.
The Way Ahead
Hayes calls this a “data moment.” She explains, “Some learnings will be lost in the eventual cookieless future. However, this opens up a key opportunity: Ensuring the data we do have is used to benefit the brands we work for — and, more importantly, consumers.” Nicholls seconds that notion. She explains, “We stand to gain a more functional digital ecosystem that works for all parties — consumers, advertisers and media owners — by pioneering new ways to target and measure online.” Stieferman suggests marketers explore this new world by taking some small steps. She recommends taking a “test-and-learn approach.” This entails “allocating a portion of your marketing budget to cookieless tactics you might have not previously tried, such as contextual placements, custom content, and connected TV. This creates a safe environment to begin building new technology and publisher relationships that can inform future marketing strategies.”
Gozman recommends marketers learn to leverage zero-party data. He explains, “Zero-party data is data that is voluntarily shared by users with businesses. This data can include things like preferences, interests and contact information. Zero-party data is collected directly from users, typically through interactive data collection methods such as surveys, polls and quizzes. Zero-party data is more valuable to businesses than cookies because it is more accurate, specific, and reliable. In addition, zero-party data is collected with the user’s consent, so there are no privacy concerns.” To understand how best to gather zero-party data, Jeremy King (@jeremykingjk), CEO and founder of Attest, suggests brands leverage concept testing. He explains, “Concept-testing … will play a critical part in building strong relationships with customers in the future. Concept-testing enables companies to find out what features customers really need in a product, as well as what messaging and channels will be most successful for selling products and services. Approaches to concept-testing are evolving all the time, and brands that want to make an impact in the future need to ensure they get with the program — or risk disaster.”
Another valuable source of data, and one closely related to zero-party data, is first-party data. Marketing consultant Griffin LaFleur explains, “Zero-party data — a term coined by Forrester Research in 2018 — doesn’t require analysis and offers insights directly from customers. Conversely, first-party data comes from customer behavior, such as web activity, and requires analysis to derive relevant insights.” Alex Song notes, “First-party data is still difficult to acquire and most experts agree that first-party data isn’t enough on its own. This is partly because it can be limited in scope, as it doesn’t provide insight into new audiences that the brand hasn’t yet engaged with. Still, assuming that the quality and accuracy of the data is good, using first-party data can lower advertising costs and reduce the time spent on creating and targeting ads, which is a solid place to start.” Although zero-party data may provide some insights, complementing it with other data can help create a fuller picture. As Song notes, neither zero-party nor first-party data provide insights about new audiences. Cognitive analytic solutions, like the Enterra Shopper Marketing and Consumer Insights Intelligence System™, can analyze a number of data sources to provide the insights brands and marketers need to advertise more effectively in a cookieless world.
King isn’t as concerned about the demise of cookies as some marketers. He writes, “The value of third-party cookies has always been questionable, and to build customer profiles based on that data alone has always involved guesswork.” And, he believes, “The cookieless future will reward companies that ask — and don’t stalk. … The brands that place the most value on gaining continual insights from their customers will be the ones that win.” Journalist Phil Britt (@Phil_Britt) suggests taking the following steps will help ensure success in the cookieless future:
1. Test processes that lack third-party data.
2. Offer benefits for sharing first-party data.
3. Use a data management platform.
4. Offer immersive experiences.
Britt concludes, “We don’t know if Google will push the third-party cookie phaseout any further. But what we do know is that it will happen eventually. Brands that prepare a first-party data strategy now, before the switch occurs, will be better positioned to succeed.”
 Vlad Gozman, “The Slow Death Of Third-Party Cookies,” Forbes, 12 September 2022.
 Elise Stieferman, “Why You’re Failing If You Aren’t Testing Cookieless Solutions Now,” The Marketing Insider, 28 July 2022.
 Chloe Nicholls, “It’s time to cut the ‘cookieless’ chat. Here’s why,” MarketingWeek, 25 September 2022.
 Jo Hayes, “How the Great Cookie Reckoning Begets Customer Appreciation,” The Marketing Insider, 21 September 2022.
 Griffin LaFleur, “Zero-party data vs. first-party data: What’s the difference?” TechTarget, 15 August 2022.
 Jeremy King, “What Will a Cookieless Future Look Like Five Years On?” MarketingProfs, 11 May 2022.
 Phil Britt, “5 Targeting Recommendations for a Post-Cookie World,” CMS Wire, 1 June 2022.