For years, digital marketers have relied on internet cookies—small data files that uniquely identify a user’s computer on the web—to gather customer data useful for shaping advertising campaigns. There’s quite a bit of information that can be gleaned from cookies: geolocation data, IP addresses, usernames, browser history, links clicked, and much more.
All this data has been a boom to marketers, helping them figure out who their customers are, and what kinds of ads these loyal shoppers take an interest in.
There is no need to wallow in gloom and doom. The state of internet advertising will likely go through major changes over the next few years, but with a little forethought, marketers should be able to emerge from the tumult with a brand-new set of effective tools for reaching consumers. AdBeacon is the guide that marketers can rely on to lead them through the new landscape.
How Cookies Began
Cookies have been a standard part of the marketer’s arsenal for longer than you might think. The origin of cookies can be traced back to 1994, when programming wiz Lou Montulli of the newly formed Mosaic Communications Corporation developed a “persistent client state object” for the Netscape browser.
Before long, the invention was renamed “cookie” after the server-to-client identification tokens, or “magic cookies,” used in UNIX systems.
Montulli’s invention had an immediate and very positive impact on the still-young ecommerce industry. By embedding cookies in customer browsers, it became possible for customers to keep items in their virtual shopping carts for longer than one session.
Prior to this, online shopping carts always purged their contents if the browser closed for any reason. This meant that shoppers had to go through the laborious process of finding the items they wanted and putting everything back in the cart.
The cookie changed all that. And because Netscape was the most popular browser of the mid ‘90s, the advantages of this approach soon became clear to many. It also became clear, at least to marketers, that cookies could also be used to collect additional types of information, such as browsing habits and demographics of internet shoppers.
This was a revelation back in an era when internet users were generally anonymous and tended to follow the then-popular wisdom about the importance of keeping one’s personally identifiable information off the web as much as possible.
Ever since the 1990s, cookies have played a vital role in internet marketing. But, as you have probably heard by now, those days are coming to an end.
The End of Third-Party Cookies
Cookies have long been the target of criticisms from internet-privacy advocates. In fact, these complaints are almost as old as cookies themselves.
In February 1997, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) released a memo on internet tracking protocols, noting, “Privacy considerations dictate that the user have considerable control over cookie management,” and setting down parameters for enabling the rejection of cookies.
Five years after this, the European Parliament released Directive 2002/58/EC, which mandated that “Users should have the opportunity to refuse to have a cookie or similar device stored on their terminal equipment.”
But it wasn’t until the latter half of the 2010s that the anti-cookie movement really went into high gear. One major turning point was the European Union’s introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018. The release of Apple’s iOS 14.5 update in 2021 was another seismic shift for marketers, as it sharply reduced the data-collection scope of the IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers).
The end of the third-party cookie hasn’t quite arrived—but make no mistake: it’s coming.
If you could pinpoint the most probable timeframe for the death of the third-party cookie, it would be sometime in the second half of 2024. That’s when Google plans to phase out its support for third-party cookies on its widely used Chrome browser.
Although several other leading browsers are already blocking third-party cookies by default (e.g., Safari, Firefox), none of these competitors can claim nearly two-thirds of the market share across all platforms, as Chrome can. So when Chrome phases out cookie support, the effects will be dramatic. Online marketing strategy will need to change substantially.
Future Strategies for Marketers
So what does this all mean for today’s digital marketers? Are we heading toward the bad old days of self-deleting virtual shopping carts? Will advertisers be able to target customers with any degree of accuracy?
To begin, it’s important to understand that cookies will not completely go away—only third-party cookies will. Consumers often don’t recognize that first-party cookies help rather than hurt. There is a widespread misconception that these kinds of cookies are the ones that track users across the internet, when in reality those little files enable the seamless online checkout experience that consumers have come to expect.
The real sea change for marketers will be a greatly increased dependence on first-party data—that is, information gleaned from your customers’ direct interactions with your brand. This type of data is relatively safe from the various pro-privacy initiatives that have eroded the usefulness of third-party data.
It also offers the benefit of superior accuracy, as compared with third-party data that is often collected via dubious methods. First-party information is derived straight from the source—past purchases, “likes,” demographic data, survey answers, onsite wishlists, and so on.
It’s not enough to collect first-party data, however. You need to know what to do with it in order to optimize your marketing efforts. That’s why we created the AdBeacon marketing attribution software.
First-Party Data and AdBeacon
The AdBeacon platform boosts your marketing strategy by providing you with all the resources you need to collect, organize, and analyze your first-party customer data.
With AdBeacon, you can utilize customized tools to track customer journeys, obtain accurate conversion data, and tweak your ads—all in a well-organized platform that has been designed by marketers for marketers.