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  • Writer's pictureHearst Pittsburgh

Crumbling Cookies and the Future of Digital Advertising

Cookies, in this context anyways, are the small files stored on a user's device that track their browsing behavior, and they have been a fundamental tool in the digital advertising industry for years.

At their best (well, second best - no one's ever set up a table of browsing data files at a Pittsburgh wedding), cookies make the browsing experience better. They're the piece of the browsing puzzle that keep you signed into your favorite sites or save that online shopping cart that you accidentally closed out of, and they connect you to relevant content.

On the other hand, at their worst (yes, even worse than a surprise raisin when you're expecting a chocolate chip), cookies infringe on browsers' privacy and can even leave them vulnerable to cyberattacks. With today's increased focus on privacy and data protection, the use of cookies is becoming increasingly restricted. As a result, the advertising industry is facing a significant shift towards a post-cookie world.

So, what does this mean for digital advertisers? In short, it means finding new ways to target and track users without relying on cookies. Below are three possible solutions advertisers should familiarize themselves with to future-proof their digital advertising success:

  1. Leveraging device based identifiers: Consider starting to use device-based identifiers, such as the IDFA (Identifier for Advertising) on iOS devices or the AAID (Android Advertising ID) on Android devices. These identifiers can be used to track a user's behavior across apps, but they also have the added benefit of being resettable by the user, giving them more control over their data.

  2. Contextual advertising: This approach involves targeting ads based on the content of the website or app the user is currently viewing. This approach doesn't rely on tracking user behavior and is considered less invasive in terms of privacy.

  3. First-party data collection: First-party data refers to information that a business has collected directly from its customers, such as email addresses or purchase history and its more important than ever. This data can be used to target ads to specific segments of the customer base and will be a valuable asset in the post-third party data/cookie world.

It's worth noting that this shift towards a post-cookie world has been happening for a while, but it won't be an overnight change. Google, who is arguably leading the move away from cookies, initially planned to phase third-party data out of Chrome by Q2 2022. That deadline has now been pushed off not once, but twice, largely in response to industry feedback. The new deadline is the end of 2024. You can read more about their plans, thinking and their Privacy Sandbox tools here.


Still, many companies have already begun to explore alternative solutions to stay ahead of the curve. Other browser providers are making the change sooner. For example, Mozilla has already switched the default settings on their Firefox browser to block third-party cookies. The Safari browser has this feature available as well.

In conclusion, the future of digital advertising is moving towards a post-cookie world. While this shift may present some challenges for advertisers, it also presents opportunities to find new and innovative ways to target and track users while respecting their privacy. As the industry adapts to this new landscape, businesses that are able to effectively leverage first-party data, device-based identifiers, and contextual advertising will be well-positioned to succeed in the post-cookie world.


Want to learn more, so you can have your cookies and eat them too? Our resident digital strategy expert, Jeff Biletnikoff is available as a resource to advertisers. Get in touch with your specific questions here.

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