Why third-party cookie tracking is not the next Y2K

Everyone remembers the Millennium bug or what we like to call ‘Y2K’, when everyone panicked for absolutely no reason. The same thing seems to be occurring in regards to Mozilla’s news that it’s going to start blocking third-party cookies in the upcoming Firefox 22. It appears many brands and industry pundits are extremely concerned about how this news will impact advertisers.

Here’s why Mozilla’s news is not as big a deal as people think it is:

First and foremost, cookies aren’t going to disappear without some sort of legislation. Not only are cookies too important to publishers and advertisers alike, there just isn’t a similarly effective and scalable solution available on the market right now.

Secondly, many brands can’t afford to survive without cookie tracking. Many brand’s sites currently have too many tags with absolutely no thought behind them, which can cause a massive website slow down and create a poor customer experience. While tags help capture data, there is now so much of it that tracking is absolutely critical for better viewing and better targeting options. There is just no way around it.

So for better or for worse, the most practical solution is cookie tracking. While there are other “tagless” options out there, cookie tracking is the only truly reliable and scalable solution. Longer term, there may be other solutions that come into play like browser fingerprinting or java tracking, but they’re going to need to be scaled and proven, and eventually they will head in the same direction.

There is another debate currently in play in regards to the alleged consumer “panic” about being tracked. However, current consumer data shows that not only are consumers NOT panicked, they aren’t opting out of being tracked, so publishers are going to continue doing it.

While the cookie tracking debate will undoubtedly continue for the time being, there are a few important things we, as marketers and advertisers, should do to be successful for the long term:

  • Marketers Need to Self-Regulate: Congress wants us to be responsible and is looking to us to self-regulate. Companies should create advertisements that clearly provide options for consumers to opt out. A seamless and well thought out consumer experience will become ever more important. Brands should look to ensure there is no problem with site experience or page load because of the tracking solutions we are trying to implement.
  • It’s all about the Privacy Policy: To avoid future issues, create a simple and easy-to-understand privacy policy and always allow customers to opt out, as stated above. Make sure this policy is posted on your website for all to see.
  • Choose a Trustworthy Partner: While the brand is responsible for making the decision as to how many calles it wants to have on its site, the right digital agency partner can help prioritize which tags are critical to the ongoing success of the bought media campaigns.  The right partner can also help navigate through all the complex regulation issues.

Even without cookie tracking, we predict that it will become an even greater challenge to aggregate data and collect it. There could very well be a shift in the amount of data we have access to now, therefore, advertisers need access to companies who aggregate consumer data and can help pinpoint the data across behaviors. It could really hurt advertisers if they can’t get that level of granularity.

Our own organization would be significantly impacted if we couldn’t access cookie data. While our job is to help drive ROI for our clients, this data is critical to making optimizations that help our clients provide a better customer experience. With today’s convergent landscape, people can transact across so many different channels, whereby our role becomes that much more critical in helping customers have a positive experience across all channels.

One interesting discussion point is how these rules will be implanted in other countries. If there were any rules to be implemented, the changes would happen first in France or Spain who have stricter laws, with the U.S. likely being the last to implement. It will also be interesting to see how China decides to regulate this.

So, until a better solution to cookie tracking comes along, all we can do is continue to be responsible, self-regulate and focus on providing the information that drives positive consumer behavior.