Cookie Concerns: Adjusting for Privacy in Paid Media

Cookies on a plate? An almost universally loved treat. Cookies on a website? The feelings are more complicated. For brands and marketers, it’s important to understand what these digital cookies are and how are they used.

Cookies at work

Cookies are a type of tracking technology in the form of a small text file that is stored by your web browser once you visit or interact with a website. There are different types of cookies, but advertisers typically use third-party cookies to monitor your behavior or that device across websites.

Media companies build third party-audiences based on data collected from third-party cookies. The companies use this data to make assumptions about who a person is, what they like, where they are from, what devices they use, what they are interested in, etc. These insights allow the media company to serve brand messages to people who might find it interesting – creating awareness or amplifying consideration. For example, if you have been browsing the baby pages on, the data may label you as a parent of young children, put you in an age bracket or assume your household income.

Push for privacy protections

In recent years, most consumers have become aware that their devices are “listening,” collecting data and using it. But, not everyone is comfortable with that practice and they’re pushing for stronger privacy protections. Laws are being created that will diminish – or even abolish – the collection and use of third-party cookie data. It is already possible for users to disable all cookies in a browser and browsers are accelerating anti-tracking efforts and restrictions on the use of cookies.

As brand managers, advertisers and marketers, we will need to figure out how to manage without cookies. The good news is that we aren’t alone. Our vendors will be our partners, adapting quickly out of necessity. Moving forward, our focus will be two-fold.

Alternate ways to build audiences

First, we must identify and work with media vendors who are planning for a cookie-less future, determining target audiences in other ways. Many vendors have already started to balance their collection strategies with other methods so that their service won’t be affected by a lack of cookie data. For example, some are using first-party data, or data about a person’s identity that they opt in to sharing.

There are other alternatives being developed as well using contextual targeting, probabilistic and deterministic data. Organizations are currently looking into less invasive ways to allow advertisers to serve relevant ads, such as the IAB tech lab with the The Unified Ad ID in development. Some companies may even choose to create their own consented identity-gathering tools.

Build and maintain consumer trust

Secondly, it will be more important than ever for brands to build a level of trust with consumers. Trusted brands may have better luck collecting first-party data through methods such as gated websites. Through these gates, companies can ask for information before a consumer enters the site, allowing for direct interaction with the audience. Companies can ask what the audience wants and determine how to give it to them. We want to gather as many audience insights as we can to make every penny spent on the journey through the funnel strategic and meaningful.

In a time where things change constantly, we need to be agile enough to keep up. It’s vital not only to monitor and plan internally for industry shifts, but to choose our partners wisely and understand how they’re adapting and preparing. The better our partners are at understanding our audiences, the more effective our paid media spend will be.

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