Bye, bye, cookies. Hello, first-party data.

Robin Emiliani  /  Mar 03, 2021

Third-party cookies.

Despite the smart branding (I mean, even dogs love the word cookie), these nifty little bits of code that track user behavior across the web are going the way of the dodo, the woolly mammoth, and the dinosaurs. Bye, bye, nice to meet ya, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Safari and Firefox already banned third-party cookies in their browsers and Google Chrome said they’re phasing them out over the next two years.

With covid hitting ad tech hard in 2020, some hoped Google might change their mind. But no dice, or so says AdWeek. Third-party cookies are well and truly on the way out.

So, what does this mean for marketers? Let’s talk about it.

Wait…what are cookies again?

Most marketers are probably familiar with the term, but in case you need a refresher: cookies are code that tracks user behavior online.

More specifically: third-party cookies are code that tracks behavior on a website the cookie-maker doesn’t own. For example: If you’re on Ad Age’s website and Facebook tracks your behavior, Facebook’s using a third-party cookie. If you’re on Ad Age’s website and Ad Age is tracking your behavior, that’s first-party data, not a third-party cookie.

At first blush, this is bad news

As marketers, we love tracking user data. It helps us find the right people at the right time in the right places for our messages. It’s how we’ve gone from the old spray-and-pray approach that hits everybody and their mom with diaper ads to a targeted approach that sends you diaper ads if you’ve actually purchased diapers before.

So, this sounds like bad news.

But here’s the nuance we all need: third-party cookies aren’t the only way to get user data and target the right people. They were just one tool in your arsenal, and—honestly—not even the best one.

Let’s talk about first-party data

There’s a general feeling in the industry that more data is better. But let’s quash that right now:

Better data is better.

More data is the reason that I—a woman—get relentless ads for men’s supplements because a man who uses the same internet in my building loves watching men’s weightlifting and nutritional videos. It’s the reason that sharing internet with a landlord might find you chased around by horror movie trailers when you’re a chicken who wants a good comedy, or pursued by a relentless stream of “sad and single?” ads when you’re happily partnered thank-you-very-much.

Better data means a business actually knows you. Knows that you love thrillers and so sends you an email to let you know thrillers are on sale this weekend. Knows that you order diapers once a week like clockwork and offers to let you set up a standing order. Knows that you have clicked on every Hawaii blog post on their site and so personalizes the website so that when you show up, the latest Hawaii blog post is front and center.

This is data that’s actually helpful to you as a customer and drives real purchases and engagements for you as a marketer/business.

And that data typically comes from first-party behavioral data that you as a business track across your own website and platforms, not third-party cookies.

So, does this mean other data sources are dead in the water?

Nope! As Deloitte explains:

“Audience data will be available as first-party (advertiser-owned) and second-party (tech or publisher-owned) cookie data and will likely be supplemented by clean, fully GDPR-compliant and transparent non-cookie-based third-party data.”

What it means for marketers

At the end of the day, we think this is an opportunity. To re-think our strategies, prioritize better data (not more), and keep an eye on the new technologies and advertising options that pop up in response to the soon-to-be-fully-implemented cookie ban.

We’ve already got great tools for tracking first-party data and personalizing marketing (and those aren’t going away). The big data collectors (Google, Facebook, and Amazon) will still be offering personalized advertising opportunities. And more tech responses to the ban are gaining traction.

And if you need help wrapping your head around what you should do next? As always, that’s what we’re here for.


Recent Posts