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Online Marketing : When the Cookies Crumble

Delivering consumer value in a post-cookie online marketing world

June 2014 By Keith Johnson
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Cookies are in the news lately—or rather, the diminishing influence of Web cookies. And it has some marketers wondering if they're going to be able to continue gathering the kind of data necessary to deliver targeted, relevant offers and messages online.

Today, almost everyone knows a cookie is a small nugget of data sent from a website to a computer user's Web browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, etc.). Stored in the browser, cookies contain information about users' activity on the website and can be read when the users return—offering insights into their interests, and fueling an explosion in highly relevant online advertising.

It is precisely this type of relevant advertising that provides value for both the consumer and advertiser. And as long as the advertisers are happy, they will keep funding the cost of all of the free digital content consumers love.

Now marketers are worried that cookies may be going away, thanks to rising consumer awareness and concern about privacy issues, and the explosive growth in mobile devices accessing the Internet (because they typically don't accept cookies).

Both of these trends are very real and, as a result, cookies are becoming less effective for certain uses. But that doesn't mean the end of relevant online advertising or the demise of digital.

The Impact
To begin with, not all cookies are affected. When you visit a typical website, you don't get just one cookie; you may get a dozen, and often many more.

Cookies set by the website publisher are known as first-party cookies. Others come from ad networks that display banner ads on the site, or from providers of other sponsored content or services, and are known as third-party cookies. Still others—like those from social media companies, which are often initially set on the social media site but collect data primarily in a third-party context on other sites—occupy a strange middle ground, often allowing them to collect identified data in third-party contexts.

Third parties are the primary targets of "Do-Not-Track" technology. First-party cookies and other permission-based tools may remain largely unaffected, because the consumer has given consent to the first party. So marketers will still be able to accumulate data regarding the activities of their own customers when they visit the website, as long as the marketer has obtained the appropriate levels of consumer consent.


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