Third-Party Cookie in 2022: Everything to know about what it is, why it’s going away, and what’s next…
|If you’ve spent any amount of time online, you’ve probably come across cookies daily.|
One minute, you’re casually browsing for a new bathing suit then click out of the website before buying. Not long before you’re seeing that product appearing across ALL THE OTHER websites you start visiting.
That experience stems from the third-party cookie, a simple piece of technology that’s had an outsized impact on the advertising industry as we know it today. Now, after years of controversy surrounding the third-party cookie, its days are numbered.
So what is a cookie, exactly? It’s really just a text file that is placed in your browser by a website. It’s sort of like an identifier for…well YOU!
Of course, that definition only scratches the surface. While its origins and the mechanisms that make it work might be simple, the cookie has helped fuel the 455.3 billion digital advertising industry through the 21st century, making it possible for marketers to send personalized—or invasive, depending on who you ask—ads to people based on their browsing behavior.
There’s no denying the third-party cookie has made marketers’ lives easier since its inception. But it’s also come with several drawbacks, some of which have spurred its demise.
Just because you can endlessly target people doesn’t mean they’ll actually buy what’s being sold. Research is mixed as to the effectiveness, and even the relevancy, of targeted ads in influencing users.
Plus, cookies are based on history—where someone has been. Sure, this can help marketers understand where someone might go next, but most people don’t need to be sold on a book they’re already planning to buy, or a hotel room for a vacation they’ve already booked.
All that aside, the biggest problem attached to cookies is that they come with major privacy concerns. The cookie was never designed with privacy in mind. It can be used to capture all sorts of data on you. In the right hands, all of this data can be pretty powerful.
But fear not, there are many things that are killing the “cookie”.
Consumer Annoyance: Heard about Facebook in the news lately? Simple questions on a Facebook personality test opened up the aperture to a lot of consumers on how your information could be leveraged in negative ways. All from a former president using them to boost $R*#P political ads to unethical marketers watching your everyday choices made on the internet.
Chrome Browser: Many browsers are now giving you the option to block cookies, but the real nail in the coffin for the third-party cookie arrived last year. In January 2020, Google said its Chrome web browser would stop supporting the cookie within two years, although the company recently extended the deadline to mid-to-late 2023.
Google: Of course, Google wasn’t just going to stop making money from advertising. In 2019, Chrome rolled out Privacy Sandbox, an initiative to help advertisers reach the customers they want, while maintaining personal privacy for users. One of Google’s proposed replacements for the third-party cookie is “Federated Learning of Cohorts,” or FLoC. Instead of targeting users on an individual level, Google will segment users by interest group—or “cohorts”—based on browsing history. So, even though you might be placed in a cohort of, say, cheeseburger-loving amusement-park enthusiasts, an advertiser would theoretically have a hard time singling you out as one. Cohorts also change each week in response to a person’s browsing behavior.
Marketers, agencies, publishers, and everyone in between are preparing for a mostly cookieless future—and imagining what it might look like.
Some in the industry believe the erasure of third-party cookies will be a good thing for the copywriters and art directors of the world. Why? Without cookies, it will only become harder for marketers to know that someone looked at red lipstick, then serve that person an ad featuring a picture of red lipstick and hope for the best.
In other words, creatives will literally need to get creative if they want to capture attention. I think what this creates is a really awesome opportunity for more data-informed creative. It’s the art of advertising and the art of media coming back. It’s not just about serving an ad to the right person at the right time but making sure the content within that ad is compelling enough to catch someone’s eye.