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That’s the Way the Third-Party Cookie Crumbles … or Is It?

  • Carey Catala

    Carey Catala

Created at June 23rd, 2021

That’s the Way the Third-Party Cookie Crumbles … or Is It?

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles” is something you say when something bad happens, and you feel like you have to accept it because there was no way of avoiding it. In fact, this unfortunate situation with third-party cookie demise and walled gardens could seem entirely unfair. Nevertheless, it is important to accept it all the same. But in the case of digital marketing and the looming death of the third-party cookie, “it is what it is” isn’t something we need to accept.  There is a recipe for success.

The term “cookie” was coined by web-browser programmer Lou Montulli. It was derived from the term “magic cookie,” which is a packet of data a program receives and sends back unchanged, originally used by Unix programmers.

But in even simpler terms, a cookie (which is not a pixel) is a small text file that sits on a computer in a folder dedicated to cookies. A cookie can be used for remembering who you are as a visitor when you log in to a website, for analytics and for advertising, among other things. 

How can the fact that this small text file is going away (specifically the third-party cookie) have such huge implications for digital marketers?  

Think back to the story of Hansel and Gretel, and imagine that first-party cookies are pebbles and third-party cookies are the breadcrumbs being left behind as customers travel through the internet “woods” so that they know where they have been. When traveling into the woods the first time, Hansel and Gretel used the pebbles and were able to find their way back home. However, when they had to go into the woods a second time they left breadcrumbs, and birds ate the breadcrumbs leaving them LOST and having no way to know where they had come from.  They ended up at the house of a witch, held hostage within those walls of the house (i.e. Google/Apple/Facebook). 

Being lost, or the third-party cookie disappearing, means being without orientation, no control, in a submissive position, helpless, invisible. This makes a privately owned first-party data graph so important. If identity and data log information is left in the hands of the witch, a single mistake can cause irreversible consequences for:

  • Site personalization: What’s the relevance of Adobe? How do you turn anonymous IDs into warm leads? 
  • Media activation: How would those change? How would we do retargeting?
  • Measurement: How will you track cross-site and cross-device activities?
  • Operations: How does that change the entire process from synergy between offline to digital, closed-loop from planning to measurement?

… and of course, privacy!

All is not lost. There are things you can do now to navigate and build for the future

Future-proofing needs to happen NOW … and in 2022 … and in 2023 … and beyond to navigate a cookieless world, because in some browsers, like Safari, third-party cookie data is already gone.  Digital marketers must first focus on these four areas to identify what is broken now and what potentially will break in the future due to the deprecation of third-party cookies:

There is a lot of noise out there regarding the death of third-party cookies. And there are pretenders that say they can fix this for you.  But unless you are working toward owning your own data and brand presence, you will be stuck in the witch’s house with no control, held hostage.

I’m not looking to add to the confusion.  The path forward is very simple:  Identity is the new currency!

3 keys to the future for brand owned first-party identity include:

Build – Create a data strategy and first-party ID graph that includes your current identifiers, keys and links (Acxiom REAL ID).

Collect – Incentivize your customers, app users, and website visitors to authenticate. Collecting this data with opt-in consent will help you future proof against privacy policy changes and laws.  You can then implement a first-party tag (Acxiom rTAG – universal first-person cookie tag) across your brand’s owned and paid media (websites and paid media) to connect media exposure more effectively to site visitors and conversions

Connect – All data signals with real time APIs (in Acxiom’s data store).  Stitch identity together and activate the identity across your martech/adtech ecosystem.

First-party cookies (tags) are the OG of cookies, and if you use all the right ingredients and bake them just right, you will end up with something very similar to the best cookie your grandma ever made.  

There is no “silver bullet,” but taking back control will be the key to success. Brands need a hybrid approach that aligns to their media strategy and work with partners that can support those initiatives.

To learn more, download the First-Party Data Strategy Consulting fact sheet.

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