What You Need to Know About the "Cookie-pacolypse" and How First-Party Data is Here to Save the Day

By Chloe Dinsdale Aug 1, 2021

Most of us think of cookies as just a sweet treat, but digital marketers and advertisers think of them a bit differently. In the marketing world, cookies are used to collect consumer information online. Cookies are tidbits of user data that are gathered and stored by websites when visited, used to learn more about who they are, their preferences and behaviors, and to track their traffic around the web. Recently, however, advertisers have found the sweetness of cookies– specifically third-party cookies– turning a bit sour, as they have begun to fall out of favor and acceptance.


As consumers become more aware of data privacy and the information collected about them, they're warier of sharing it with just anyone. This, plus the fact that many internet browsers are phasing out support of third-party cookies, will impact the way many advertisers have been reaching their target audiences. In a nutshell, third-party cookies are cookies that are created by a website that is not the one you are on. Meanwhile, first-party data is collected by the website you are actually on and this first-party data is shared with any other companies or advertisers. Google announced that they will be phasing out the use of the third-party cookies by 2022, and Mozilla already disabled support for third-party cookies earlier this year. 


Because of this, it's been claimed we are headed towards a “cookie-pocalypse” as advertisers scramble to adapt. What does this mean for advertisers who currently utilize cookies to target and reach their intended audience across the web? We’ll dive deep into the subject of the imminent cookie-pocalypse and cover how first-party data is here to help. 


What does “cookie-pocalypse” mean? 


In January 2020, Google set the stage for the period to come for online advertisers when they announced a plan to block third-party cookies from Chrome, the most popular internet browser. Although the announcement wasn’t all that surprising given Safari and Firefox’s prior bans on the practice, Google has a much bigger influence over internet activities given its larger market share. According to Statista, Chrome is responsible for 70% of desktop internet traffic and 41% of mobile traffic. Google’s decision to end support of third-party cookies is a byproduct of its 2019 “Privacy Sandbox” initiative, the company’s open-source plan to craft new standards protecting the privacy of consumers.


The term “cookie-pocalypse" thus emerged to describe the end of a pivotal era for many advertisers, brands, and agencies. Third-party cookies have served as an essential part of collecting consumer information for years. For now, Google says it is in the process of developing an alternative to cookies that benefits advertisers and internet users alike. So far, however, there’s been no word on what that might look like. Either way, the advertising industry as a whole is preparing for what appears to be Google’s main goal: making the web a more private space. 


How can first-party data help? 


Instead of collecting data in a backdoor fashion, as third-party cookies do, first-party data is gathered directly from users by the website they are on. This means that the data is also owned by the company itself and gathered with user consent, giving users more power over their data. In a post GDPR world, a benefit for advertisers of first-party data is that it brings minimal privacy concerns. Advertisers can be confident that they know exactly where the data came from and that they are respecting data privacy laws. The types of first-party data that can be collected include demographic data, how a user interacts with and uses a website, purchase history, and psychographic data.


This gives brands with a larger digital presence and audience an edge over their competitors. The data collected can be customized personally to a company's initiatives and isn’t privy to any other advertiser. This information can then be used to design ads and content directly customized by actual users’ digital interactions, purchase history, and behaviors. Examples of where first-party data can be collected include: 


  • Owned and operated websites
  • Mobile apps 
  • Point of sale or CRM software
  • Email and text services
  • Surveys
  • Social Media

With a robust portfolio of brands and publications, Hearst is a world leader in first-party data and is ready to take on a cookie-less world. With the end of third-party cookies nigh, Hearst data is now more important than ever.


Through The StoryStudio, brands can build and launch custom digital content marketing campaigns that leverage Hearst's first-party datasets and premium, exclusive audiences. Hearst's first-party data is unmatched, with more than 2.4 trillion unique data points available, meaning we can tap into our vast library of data to create audience segments based on demographics, interests, behaviors, and more. Not only do brands and businesses that partner with Hearst get access to world-class custom content to represent their brand, but the masthead of their preferred Hearst owned and operated publication as well as access to an exclusive, premium audience of over 159 million individuals. 


Even with the current use of third-party cookies, brands aren’t able to reach 46% of their visitors. This is precisely where first-party data can bridge the gap—now and when cookies become a thing of the past. Beyond expanding your reach from the company’s grassroots, Hearst first-party data provides a plethora of benefits for brands—especially with the “cookie-pocalypse” on the horizon. Benefits include:


  • Increasing consumer privacy and data protection internally 
  • Qualitative and relevant information collected from direct consumers
  • The ownership of collected data 
  • A cost-effective and budget-saving measure to avoid third-party database purchasing 


Shifting gears from third to first 


With the gradual diminishment of cookies, it’s only inevitable that other strategies will need to take their place. Luckily for brands, shifting gears from third-party to first-party data is an almost seamless transition. In addition, it is highly beneficial for a company’s bottom line and its effective direct interactions with customers. Without Google’s support of cookies, first-party data is the avenue for businesses to stay on track as methods of collecting customer data shift over time. 

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