February 22, 2022

What does the end of third-party cookies mean for marketers and re-targeting?

It’s been in the works for some time.  Firefox and Safari acted on it a while ago.  But for digital marketers – and really eCommerce businesses in general – the big one is finally here, as Google makes good on its promise to phase out third-party cookies in 2022.  With a 70% market share, Google holds a virtual, in all senses of the word, monopoly on internet behavior.  This is big news. 

Yet before you resign yourself to marketer’s despair – “how will I ever stalk someone across the internet again!!?!”- it might just be worth taking a step back and thinking through the implications for your own marketing approach.

What’s going on with third-party cookies? 

Before we dive too deep, it’s probably good to get a level set of what’s really going on here. 

Following an industry-wide trend around concerns for consumer privacy online (this is not a new thing – GDPR was looking at it in 2019) and Google’s own Privacy Sandbox strategy – an ‘open-source effort to develop a new set of technologies in the form of web standards’ – the unregulated use of ‘cookies’ to track user behavior across the internet has come under fire. 

What does this mean in real terms? By the end of 2023, third-party cookies will no longer be a part of the Google Chrome experience.  You may have noticed already this year, that websites are asking more in-depth questions of users around cookie permissions when you’re silver surfing – and this is part of it. 

Essentially the Wild West days of being able to follow a ‘cookie’ trail of user behavior – and re-target advertising across any web property that users may visit – are over.   But to understand that we need to look at the difference between third and first-party cookies. 

The Death of the Cookie Monster…

First Party vs Third-Party Cookies 

While the new regulations are focused on unregulated access to ‘third party cookies’ – first-party cookies that track data about your own websites visitors remain safe, with Google referring to such relationships as ‘Vital’ – but what’s the difference overall?

First Party Cookies – 

First-party cookies are tracking lines of code that are stored on a website visitor’s computer, helping to remember things like passwords and basic information – cart items for example – and are generally focused on improving the user experience and some basic analytics such as repeat site visits and where users click on your site.  Wonder how a site remembers what you’ve been up to there?  That’s cookies in action. This information does not extend however to allow tracking on other sites unaffiliated with your domain. 

Third-Party Cookies 

Third-party cookies, surprise surprise, are tracking codes placed on a web visitor’s computer from sites other than your own.  Third-party cookies track web use across multiple sites and then send this information to the ‘cookie owner’ – in many cases an advertiser.  While first-party cookies are accepted ‘automatically’ as essentially the price of purchase for using a website – third-party cookies must be accepted.  They provide a richer data trail, and for advertisers, a richer view of behaviors from across multiple sources, allowing for a theoretically more sophisticated approach to ad placement and targeting.   

So, what’s the big whoop?

For marketers who have been heavily reliant on this data to try and increase conversion on sales, the fear is essentially one of profitability.  UK Based market research firm GetApp provided data to Hubspot that suggested…

  • 41% of marketers believe their biggest challenge will be the inability to track the right data 
  • 44% of marketers predict a need to increase spending by 5% to 2% to reach the same goals in 2021 as they achieved last year 
  • 23% of marketing experts plan on investing in email marketing software due to Google’s new policy 

Ultimately, it’s not that complicated – take away our ability to track user behavior (via the grey area of opt-in cookies) – it becomes much harder for us to sell people shit. 

But is this really such a bad thing?

F*$! You Cookies 

For most ‘lay’ people – our only real dealing with the world of cookies, is the slightly lurking sense that we’re being watched wherever we go.  Remember that pair of shoes you looked at one time on a whim?  Yes of course I do, because they’re being SHOVED IN MY FACE ON EVERY WEBSITE I VISIT FOREVER!!!

While not all retargeting is a completely cynical venture concocted to drive the end consumer mad – there has been a tendency to rely on somewhat unimaginative ‘pay and spray’ selling, behavior perhaps more driven by the technology, than any real human or strategic thought. 

A way forward (without third-party cookies)? 

Though many independent eCommerce businesses have been reliant on the legitimate use of such tactics (and remember re-targeting is not dead, just third-party tracking) perhaps there is an opportunity at hand for a more ‘human’ type of marketing moving forwards.  

Market research by consumer insights brand TruRating recently found that 77% of consumers consider brand values before making a purchase and that 68% of us have become MORE loyal to our favorite brands since COVID.  What, if in this light, we focused on building authentic and meaningful relationships with our customers, above and beyond – or at least in tangent with – investment in ad spend.  Wouldn’t that be – well – nice?  

At Vehicle Media, we work with brands, businesses, and people to look at a more human-centric, creative approach to strategic thinking.  If you’re on the lookout for a different way of thinking about your marketing investment in 2022 – perhaps we should get in touch.