What marketers need to know about the end of third-party cookies

By 2022, developers will fully end the support of third-party cookies, which marketers have long used to help granularly target ads and content and collect other data that inform their online strategies. This move is a response to mounting consumer-privacy concerns and changing regulations regarding online data collection, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act. People simply want clarity on what’s being collected and how their data are being used—and that desire for transparency has put third-party cookies out of commission.

Below, we provide a primer on cookies and some thoughts on how marketers should adapt to this new reality.

What are cookies?

Cookies are small pieces of code that are stored in users’ browsers to collect their data and preferences. There are two different types:

First-party cookies:

– generated by the website or site operator that the user is visiting

– help websites collect analytics data to improve user experience

– accepted automatically

Third-party cookies:

– generated by other companies to track and gather information on the user from their device over time from different websites; sent to a third party (advertiser)

– collect marketing-relevant data (age, location, gender, or user behavior)

– user must be informed of existence and accept—typically in the form of a pop-up at the bottom of a screen when the user is on a given site

What should marketers do?

For many marketers, this is a chance to get creative. While they’ll have to forgo some of the campaign tactics that have worked well because of the data they’ve collected from third-party cookies, there are a couple ways to move forward.

Use first-party data, and give customers something in return

If marketers start with transparent data-collecting processes and share with customers what they’re tracking and why, they have an opportunity to change the relationship. But in collecting those data, marketers should be providing some value to the customer—more targeted and personalized experiences, discounts, convenience, or something else that makes it worth it to the customer to share their data.

Try different tactics and analytics approaches

Investing in customer data platforms and consent-management systems can help marketers better use their first-party data so they don’t have large gaps in their strategy when they lose third-party tracking. With more sophisticated platforms, they can connect the dots and use analytics to define their customer profiles. Understanding how certain attributes play a role in customers’ loyalty, brand engagement, and other purchase decisions can help companies build smarter, more effective marketing strategies with the data they have.

Further, companies can reach these audiences in ways other than programmatic advertising; a more content-heavy strategy or different types of two-way interaction such as polls, feedback, and inputs can help create deeper connections. Moving toward more contextual advertising—for instance, sponsored content on credible sites where the target audience is likely to spend time—can also help. While these types of shifts are likely to have cost implications after years of more inexpensive and highly targeted programmatic ad buying, they represent an opportunity to create trust, credibility, and deeper relationships that can pay off over the long term.


While there is no one solution for marketers to combat the end of third-party cookies, tailoring an approach that best suits your company’s needs and combines a mix of tactics will help to build trust and push your marketing efforts forward.

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