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The Cookie Apocalypse and Digital Marketing

By now you might be aware that cookies, aka what digital marketers called their best friend, are most definitely on the way out.

In fact, from 2022, Google will follow in the footsteps of Apple and will pull cookies from Chrome. This means no more third-party tracking.

For any advertiser, or digital marketing agency, the immediate loss is going to be the lack of data that we’ve all come to rely on.

So what are marketers going to do now? Let’s find out.

Why are the cookies on the way out?

You see, although cookies seemed like the perfect solution to digital marketing as they literally let advertisers follow a user’s behaviour online and across multiple sites, consumers finally had enough.

In the last few years, landmark privacy protections acts have been passed, primarily in the US and Europe, which have forced tech companies to sit up and listen.

Consumers had enough of these supposedly invasive techniques which allowed for aggressive retargeting and targeting online.

It’s why when you visit a website and then put a product in your basket, but never make a payment, you then are served ads all over the Internet (often including social media) for the product.

Sometimes, this happens even when you Google a particular product or service.

Well, all of this is about to end.

Contextual Targeting

So, how are marketers going to continue to sell products if they can no longer rely on such advanced technologies?

Actually, there are a couple of ways.

Firstly, audience targeting is likely to become super-important once again. Not that this ever really went away, but digital marketers did kind of forget about it.

The reason for this was simply that marketers had this incredible ability to follow people around.

Now, though, it’s time for marketers to return to the old traditional ways of relying on context.

Contextual targeting is what advertisers use when they are playing ads as TV commercials.

The products that will be advertised during a prime-time rugby game are generally different to those advertised during a prime-time finale of Masterchef, for example.

Contextual targeting most often works online by relying on semantic analysis of content and keywords.

For example, an ad will be served on a particular site not because the user might like it, but because any user or visitor to that particular site will probably like it.

An easy example is a sports website showing ads for a sports betting site.

But the same can be said for an online fashion magazine or blog which would probably display ads for clothing websites.

Back in the day, yes, there used to be problems with this.

The famous example is of an ad for cheap flights to say, the Maldives, being served on an article that is all about a string of horrific murders in the country.

These days, though, AI is much more intelligent and these kinds of mistakes won’t happen. This makes brand safety much easier to protect when using contextual targeting.

Publishers have also become much better at sharing the taxonomy of their sites with advertising networks so that ads and content can actually work with each other, rather than against each other.

Walled gardens

The other response to the lack of cookies will be the need for companies and brands to further encourage consumers to positively identify themselves on their sites so only relevant ads can be served.

This might be done by encouraging loyalty programs or getting consumers to sign up to a daily newsletter or the likes.

It’s important that customers are incentivised to share their personal data. If not, they are simply not going to be interested at all.

Some brands have already started doing this – especially news websites that don’t already have a paywall up.

Two of the biggest walled gardens out there on the market are obviously Facebook and Google – and neither of these are cheap.

That being said, they are extremely valuable vaults of information which contain authenticated data about many thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of users.

Although advertisers won’t enjoy the shift to the cookie-less future in the first place, it’s fair to say that there are positives.

The largest and most obvious positive impact will be the shift towards consumer protection and privacy in an effort to repair some of the damaged relationships that tech companies, advertisers and marketers currently have with consumers.

In this regard, the change is most definitely a good one.

It also allows marketers to really return to some of the fundamentals of digital marketing – audience targeting, contextual targeting and intuition about where best to serve an ad, rather than just looking at hard data earned from third party cookies alone.

Has your brand and business already begun to prepare for the cookie apocalypse? If not, now’s the time.

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