The State of Cookies

Data privacy is a hot topic and one that is only getting more and more convoluted.  Currently,  the companies whose products and services we use on a daily basis (Facebook! Google!) collect, use, and sell consumer data – and we as consumers have no right to control this.  While California and Europe have introduced regulations to protect individual consumer data, there is currently no federal law in place.  But the data collection processes of companies – and advertisers – are under more and more scrutiny.

Web cookies play an essential role in the collection of consumer data,  Over the next several months (and years) we will continue to see drastic changes around cookies and data collection.  Here’s everything you need to know to prepare for some of the anticipated adjustments.  

We will continue to monitor and share updates as we strategize, prepare, and implement new infrastructure.  

First, let’s start with the basics!  

What is a COOKIE? 

COOKIES, are a small text file that stores information on a user’s browser and are the primary means of tracking online behavior today.  

Two Types of Cookies:

    1. First Party Cookie: Cookie placed by the same domain the user is visiting. 
    2. Third-Party Cookie: Cookie placed by a different domain than the user is visiting

Browser cookies (a 25-year-old technology never intended to be used for advertising) have come to form the backbone of browser-based ad targeting, identity resolution, measurement, and personalization. However…

…Third party cookies have come under attack. 

Dating back to 2018, we’ve seen the EU and Canada release new targeting and spam laws to help protect the privacy of their citizens. Following the new legislation, we have seen a serious shift towards privacy protection with the top 3 web browsers (Safari, Chrome, Firefox) limiting, or banning completely, tracking, and measurement technology.  

Safari, Chrome, and Firefox are all planning and releasing new and enhanced privacy features. Together, these browsers account for 83.7% of browser market share worldwide. 

Some of these privacy features limit marketers’ ability to: 

  • Target programmatic advertising 
  • Identify users over periods of time longer than a few days
  • Segment supporters and audiences based on observed behavior

What Does This Mean for Marketers?

Cookies play a fundamental role in the usability of the Internet. Although cookies currently serve many purposes, cookie-based tracking will continue to fade due to cookies’ inherent vulnerability to being blocked or exploited. 

Marketers will need to develop a long-term strategy shifting from cookie-based ID regimes to building their own sources of customer data.

At this time, there is no perfect solution that covers all the bases. Advertisers should evaluate their individual needs based on the impact to measurement, reporting, campaign performance, etc. 

However, there are some approaches that we can start to think about that will positively impact an advertiser’s ability to glean insights, and does so in an ethical manner that ensures protection of the user’s personal information.  

What Should Nonprofits Do? 

 While third party cookies will go away, first-party cookies are here to stay. This means nonprofits will not be able to rely on data from other companies but independently creating or acquiring your own sources of supporter data. This means all the data collected using forms, call centers, giving history, site registration or log-in data.  A login is especially beneficial as it will enable an organization to build its own full view of the engaged supporter.  Using data from supporters who have actually shown interest in your organization is typically going to drive higher conversion rates. 

Advertisers can also partner with a platform or publisher that collects their own first-party data. In addition to the big names like Facebook and Google, there are many others who have built out their own audience data sets that advertisers can tap into.  

We’ll need to rely on contextual targeting, which is when ads for a specific product or service are shown in placements that are contextually relevant, which is another tactic that works very well and doesn’t rely on cookies.  

In Conclusion

Ultimately the trend toward privacy will likely have far-reaching consequences, but large shifts such as these often have unexpected outcomes. No one can be certain where this will lead. Potential changes on the horizon include further browser changes, adaptive solutions, and new technology offerings to reach audiences or further changes in regulation. 

What we do know, as marketers, we must continue to watch this space, plan for the unexpected, and work with nonprofits to make sure they are prepared for the future.