Published on 
November 11, 2021

Breaking down first, second and third-party cookies

Cookies have been the go-to technology for advertisers eager to understand consumers' behavior online, and take advantage of that behavior to get their ads seen by the right people. However, due to pressure from privacy-conscious consumers and regulators, Google has announced that it will be banning all third-party cookies by 2023. This decision means that advertisers across the world are left in the lurch, and need to seriously rethink many of the digital advertising strategies they have relied on up to now. So what's next? This article dives into the difference between first, second and third party cookies, and looks at what alternatives come to replace them. 

What is a cookie? 

A cookie is a string of text that is sent to your browser from a website and stored on your computer or mobile device when you visit that site. Cookies are created to store various types of information, including personal information. It is possible to disable cookies by changing your browser settings. However, this may prevent you from accessing certain features on the websites that you visit.


What distinguishes the three different kinds of cookies? 

First Party Cookies

First-party cookies are set by a website when someone visits. These types of cookies cannot be used to track users across different websites. First-party cookies are created by websites you visit (like ours). They can only be accessed by that same website; they cannot monitor other sites you visit. If you've ever seen an option for “Remember My Login” on a website when logging in, it means they're using first-party cookies to store and read information about you. These cookies contain no personally identifiable information about you: just tidbits of data like IP address and what page they were on when you logged in.


Let’s look at an example - take Booking.com. When you log into the travel agency site, you are sharing with the company basic information - such as your email address and maybe where you plan to spend your winter holidays. This is information you choose to share with the site. 


Second Party Cookies

Second-party cookies are actually better defined as “second party data”, since they are not, technically speaking, cookies. Essentially, these contain the same information as first-party cookies, but are being used by a secondary website via some form of data exchange between the two sites. 


Continuing with our Booking.com example - second-party data may be information the site shares with other businesses in the travel industry. For example, if you recently booked a stay at a ski resort, Booking.com may share this data with outdoor adventure agencies or even snow gear-brands. These agencies or brands may want to launch a campaign to promote their product/services for the upcoming winter season, but don’t have enough data to do so effectively. By negotiating a transaction with Booking.com, they are able to obtain a lot of data from a trusted source. 


Third Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are set when people visit sites not owned by or affiliated with companies that serve ads on those sites. The “third-party” element means that the data  is delivered from outside sources that did not originally collect the data. For example, if you visit a website and click on an ad served by a media company, a cookie from that media company is going to be set in your browser for their use. These kinds of cookies allowed companies to serve ads based on what users searched for or had previously browsed. 


This is where things get slightly creepy. Have you ever scrolled through your Facebook newsfeed and suddenly noticed an ad for the exact location you previously searched for on Booking.com just a few hours earlier, even minutes, earlier? Well, that’s the third-party cookies doing what they do best - using data they collected without your immediate consent in order to target you, or as they like to see it, present relevant ads that would interest their targeted audiences. Creepy, we know. 


Now that third-party cookies are disappearing, advertisers need to rethink their strategy.

 

What does cookie-less advertising look like? 

It’s important to note that Google has pushed back their deadline for banishing third party cookies from all Chrome browsers from January 2022 until late 2023. This delay indicates that Google, like every other tech and advertising company, are scrambling to define what technology will come to fill the cookie-shaped void, and give the marketing industry a sustainable way of targeting consumers without violating their privacy. 


However, we should remember that we are not necessarily recreating the wheel here. We already have a form of cookie-less advertising – otherwise known as contextual targeting. Simply put, contextual advertising matches the content of the web page to the content of the ads. Here’s an example: a video on YouTube all about how to cook spicy fried chicken wings is the perfect place to advertise a new spicy chicken sauce. The connection is obvious: the viewers who are interested in the topic of the video are undoubtedly a promising target audience for this product.


So, instead of sneaking up on your audience via collected data (whether consensually collected or not) and presenting them with ads that may or may not be relevant due to timing or mistargeting, brands can simply promote ads in a more seamless, relevant, less creepy manner. When a viewer chooses to enjoy a piece of content, they are much more open to receive all the information shared in that content - ads included. 


According to Hootsuite reports, here’s what you need to consider: 

  • Viewers aged 18 and over spend 41.9 minutes on YouTube daily on average, the average 
  • The average YouTube visitor watches 8.89 videos per day
  • 70% of viewers bought from a brand after seeing it on YouTube
  • YouTube ads targeted by intent have 100% higher lift in purchase intent than those targeted by demographics

So, your audience is actively spending time consuming content filled with ad potential, so why sneak up on them from the backdoor? 


Get in touch to discuss how to jumpstart your brand’s influencer marketing campaigns and find the right content to wean you off your reliance on cookies for good. 

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