We’ve got a lot going on these days so perhaps you didn’t notice that when you visit a website you get a message that asks you to accept its cookies.
Something like this:
Now, as a person who has yet to grow up and is admittedly living in what I call my “extended childhood years,” I distinctly remember there being a rule about not accepting things from strangers. So … I’m having trouble reconciling an “accept” to this invite and I’m just going to guess that I’m not alone when it comes to this digital conundrum.
What’s a consumer to do, and, more importantly, why is this so important to the brand?
What are these cookies they are trying to get me to accept?
In terms of the internet, a cookie is best thought of as a ‘crumb’ of data that exists on a website that essentially monitors things like your browsing preferences and login information. These cookies pay attention to what you do the second you click ‘accept’ and start interacting with the website.
That cookie then disguises itself as a text file and hangs out in your web browser. It sits there innocently until you revisit the website again, at which point it communicates back to the mothership (the website) to create a more personalized experience for your next visit.
Once my device has visited a site where I’ve accepted the cookies, I typically won’t have to provide my login credentials … sites like Amazon and Facebook are good examples of this. Your bank account, and other financial or medical type websites don’t do that for obvious reasons.
Cookies generally make the browsing experience a more pleasant one. This is a very good thing and in simple terms, we should all pour ourselves a tall glass of milk and start surfing the internet with abandon.
But wait, are all the cookies the same?
Ah, no … the small print. Damn the small print.
Not all cookies are the same and yes, some are good and function for the benefit of the user (think oatmeal chocolate chip) and some are perhaps not as good and designed for the benefit of the brand (you know, like gingersnaps).
So to better understand the cookie and what it represents, let’s first call out the two types of cookies that websites use. They are:
- Persistent Cookies – this is when a website remembers things like your login credentials, settings, and what you left in your cart on your last visit. Ironically, Persistent Cookie was also my nickname in high school but that’s not relevant to my point here.
- Session Cookies – these cookies are server-specific and typically peace out the minute you log off the website. A session cookie is valuable for people like Andrew who want to know what visitors do, don’t do, and how long they stick around.
Cookies do a few important things for brands. They help personalize your UX (this is how the cool kids say user-experience) and they offer the convenience of not having to spend a lot of time logging in or ending up on an irrelevant page. More importantly, they help people like Andrew track your visit so we can make improvements to the site, and they let other people like Andrea serve you relevant ads related to your consumer interests.
For the record, Andrew and Andrea are two different people. Swear.
So all cookies are good, right?
Without furthering our dig on gingersnaps, let’s just go on to say that cookies are harmless. They are not the source for malware or Chinese spy weather balloons. They can be the source of digital shenanigans when someone is able to access them, which could potentially lead to someone getting their hands on your personal information or worse, being able to act as you on the internet.
Trust me, you don’t want that.
And if that doesn’t scare the bejesus out of you then there’s also this thing called ‘cookie stuffing’ where bad people with too much time on their hands inject hidden iframes and then resell your data. This is like a digital pyramid scheme that steals your money. It’s complicated and not particularly common … you can read more on this here when you’re done.
Do I or don’t I accept cookies when I’m surfing the web?
As a marketer, my quick answer to this is OF COURSE you should accept cookies when you visit a website. But the better answer here is to manage your cookies responsibly so that you reduce (if not eliminate) the chance of creating a cookie monster (I was dying to say that… sorry, not sorry). Reputable websites that I visit frequently (Amazon, AZ Fly Shop, KUIU, Banana Republic) need to give me a streamlined UX so that I can buy the things I need deftly and without a lot of exhausting keystrokes.
So, bring on the cookies.
My best advice to you is to ACCEPT cookies on sites you feel comfortable accepting them on…you know, like rethincadvertising.com/blog and other sites you visit on the regular. More importantly, you should be sure to MANAGE your cookies so that you never end up with a bunch of gingersnaps on your plate. As a general rule, I don’t accept cookies from sites that I visit as a one off. If I’m not coming back on the regular, I don’t want to accept your cookies.
To be the resource I want to be in your life, here are a few shortcuts for you to use on your browser so you can clear or manage cookies in your browser:
Cookies as we know them are going the wrong way.
Thanks to the forward-thinking people of Europe and Socialist Republic of California, the groundwork for uber privacy has already been laid. Not to sound like a soulless capitalist, but if anyone can make doing business harder it’s definitely these two.
Google recently announced that cookies are going to stick around on Chrome until the back half of 2024, which means it’s not a total waste of time for me to write this blog. That being said, we’ll still manage to make some pretty decent educated guesses as to where to serve our digital ads through a variety of means. In what could be a blog of their own someday, solutions include things like first-party data, publisher provider identifiers, contextual advertising (we do this already), data pools, and my personal favorite, Google’s Privacy Sandbox.
Anecdotally, the demise of cookies is one reason why brands are being so aggressive with discounts associated with providing your email information. Converting you from a visitor to a customer is an important goal for brands who don’t want to spend their profits on a retargeting campaign. Not that they won’t, mind you … it just makes their job (or should I say their agency’s job) much easier once they have your email.
Just know that once you hit the browser button on your phone or computer, people like me want to know what you’re doing. And look, I don’t care that you visit websites that show videos of ruthlessly drunk Canadians engaging in the first steps in what becomes an expensive fur coat for someone with too much money. That’s your business … not mine.
What I do care about is what you do once you get to the website to purchase that item (you heartless bastard). That’s my business … not yours.