The Cookie Armageddon that Never Came
A “cookie” is a digital advertising term for a pixel of data stored on the web. Cookies attach themselves to your browsing history to follow you around the Internet. This is not as “Big Brother” as it sounds and cookies are not viruses. There are two types of cookies: first party and third party. While debating the morality of cookies, it’s important to define what a first party cookie and a third party cookie means. Many reputable advertisers will place first party cookies on their websites to garnish information about the customers who often view their website or product inventories. For example, if I’m browsing Ford Mustangs, and I click a few models on my local Ford dealer’s website, it is likely I will see an ad for a Ford Mustang over the next few weeks. First party cookies act as a reminder and brand awareness from an advertiser you already visited in hopes they pull you through the sales funnel to make a final purchase or conversion. First party cookies can also include your personal log-in information. So when you log-on to Facebook, it has first party cookie information that recognizes your device and automatically inserts your log-in information. However, it is important to note for a first party cookie to store your personal information you have to check a box authorizing that cookie to remember you for the next time you return.
Third party cookies are tracking pixels used for advertising mapping from advertisers you have not visited. They rely on behavioral and correlated data to find users most likely to be interested in their ads and attach their pixels to your user ID through other domains. So in our example above, in the days after I visited the Ford Mustang webpages I get an ad for luxury sunglasses, but I never visited that website. Also, as I browse the web, the sunglasses ad seems to “follow” me around the Internet. This means that sunglasses company has put a third party cookie on my device. It would seem they correlated an interest in sports cars to an interest in luxury sunglasses. It is easy to tell third party cookies from first because in your browser settings cookies are named by the advertiser who planted the cookie. If you don’t recognize a cookie’s domain, you can clear out the cookies stored in your browsing history.
In September 2017, Apple announced the upcoming IOS 11 software update would significantly change how cookies are stored, tracked, and retained by Apple devices in the Safari browser. Apple said their software update, called Intelligent Tracking Prevention, in IOS 11 protects consumer interests by blocking third party cookies and limiting the use of first party cookies. The update stems from Apple’s stance on ad tracking technology, saying it has become intrusive to Internet users who sometimes feel they never consented to have their data collected.
Apple’s software update automatically blocks third party cookies and limits the life of first party cookies in the Safari browser. Advertisers became increasingly shocked and angry with Apple’s decision. They argued these restrictions limit the interaction between marketers and the market, and the restrictions on ads create an irrelevant, untimely approach to digital advertising. According to Adweek, six trade groups with important ties to the digital marketing community wrote an open letter to Apple and the digital advertising community expressing their disagreement with the software.
Campaign scale, effectiveness, and data collection were all seemingly at stake with Apple’s upcoming cookie Armageddon. Now that it’s been a few months since its release, were did the panic go? In our experience, campaigns have not lost scale, first party cookies are still getting hits, and it’s been business as usual. Effective data gathering is the cornerstone of digital marketing best practices, but some refinements of data collection could be a welcome addition to the industry. In fact, the well-thought-out refinement of digital advertising best practices should be celebrated, so that the increasing installment of private ad blockers is curbed and more of our ads can get to our target audiences. Additionally, most every Internet browser already blocks a large percentage of third party cookies on purpose, so really the only major digital data gathering that could have been effected by IOS 11 was the restriction on first party cookie life to 24 hours. This change could significantly effect scale for retargeting ad strategies, as well as how people interact with the websites they have saved log-in information. Imagine having to enter your Facebook username and password every time you want to log-in on your Mac – first party cookies aren’t so bad after all, huh?
While the Apple cookie Armageddon seemingly fell by the wayside, a new adversary is entering the proverbial ring. Google has announced plans to integrate an ad blocker within the Google Chrome extension – making the digital ad community tremble in their desk chairs. However, this extension does not block every ad, only those ads deemed intrusive to the user experience. Intrusive is a vague term, but the digital ad community thinks the definition of intrusive ads will align with the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s standards found in their new ad portfolio.
At Quantifi Digital, we work hard to make sure your digital ad campaigns align with your marketing goals and have the scale to effectively deliver quality impressions to your target audience. Give us a call today to experience the customized plan our digital marketing team can create for you.