Featured case study | PA Treasury: PA 529 and Keystone Scholars Campaign

PA 529 and Keystone Scholars

Third-party cookies

Solutions and Immediate Steps

Cookies with computer

Some cookies are crumbling. What now?

February 15, 2021  |  By: Anderson Group

As marketers, those little bits of code called cookies have helped us deliver better customer experiences and improve ROI on our digital and marketing investments. But as consumers, many of us also have felt that uncomfortable sense of being “watched” every time we went online.

So, it’s no surprise that some cookies are going away very soon—and that’s good news for marketers and consumers alike.


A little history about cookies.

In reality, two types of cookies have been in use since the 1990s:

  • First-party cookies are those dropped by sites you visit, allowing marketers to track privately what you look for and how long you stay on that site. These cookies aren’t going to disappear any time soon.

  • Third-party cookies are the ones that record your browser history, user ID, and more—these are the cookies that annoy consumers and alarm privacy advocates and are the cookies that are going away.

No doubt this will affect how marketers not only manage and protect their online data, but also how they execute their digital media and marketing plans. But these “forced changes” may end up delivering more satisfied customers and a higher ROI.


Solutions on the horizon.

The most publicized solution is Google’s Privacy Sandbox, a plan to move all user data to browsers for storage and processing—which keeps data on the user’s device and is privacy compliant. In essence, Privacy Sandbox sets standards for ad targeting, measurement and fraud prevention, and replaces third-party cookies with five application programming interfaces (APIs) that are in the process of being tested:

  1. The Trust API—asks Chrome users just once to fill out a CAPTCHA-like program, and then relies on anonymous “trust” tokens to prove this person is a real-life human

  2. The Privacy Budget API—will limit the amount of data websites can glean from Google’s APIs by giving each one a “budget”

  3. The Conversion Measurement API—lets advertisers know if a user saw its ad and then eventually bought the product or landed on the promoted page

  4. The Federated Learning of Cohorts API—or FloCs, which uses machine learning algorithms to study the browser habits of similar users

  5. Private Interest Groups, including Noise API—or PIGIN, lets each Chrome browser track a set of interest groups a user is thought to belong to

Google claims that FloCs will be as much as 95% effective as third-party cookies; however, it’s still unclear how this offering will deliver on 1:1 personalized (via behaviors) ad targeting. Also, the testing continues–Google has announced it will make FloCs available for developer testing sometime in March 2021.

Meanwhile many data management and behavioral research resources already have replaced cookies with other things, such as device IDs, to track information but keep the actual user name anonymous. Groups of publishers and advertisers also are coming together to consider creating a cross-platform login identity system, which gives audiences the choice to participate and permission to share their first-party data across multiple media properties (also called “walled gardens”).


Immediate steps to take.

Especially given COVID-19’s economic and social impact last year, brands and marketers should prepare NOW even as alternatives are being developed and tested. Four good ways to do that are:

  1. Drop past reliance on cookie-fueled behavioral advertising, and use other methods, such as contextual targeting, which aligns ad placements based on the topic of the web page being loaded. Common sense suggests that an ad for a diet plan might be helpful to someone reading an article about losing weight. True, it takes more thought than pushing a button, but these ads don’t invade anyone’s privacy and better match audience expectations.

  2. Create a new audience analytics plan—one focused on collecting more meaningful first-party data. Think about what types of measurable behaviors tell you what you want and need to know about your users–such as the URLs of visited websites, content viewed, length of stay, and so on.

  3. Build in more ways to collect first-party data—such as user feedback options, reviews, surveys, and downloadable content. These enable audiences to provide data about themselves voluntarily, and in turn, marketers can reward their support and cooperation. Consent popups also help audiences share information to make their user experience even better.

  4. Relook at the “authenticity” of your brand voice and messaging. Is online content not only relevant, but believable? Does it help audiences trust what's being said because it’s supported, not just stated? The more audiences trust what you say and how you say it, the more open they’ll be to sharing what’s important to them.

Want to learn more, or explore ways to prepare for the inevitable? Feel free to call Keith Heberling at 610-655-5450.