Intent-based Media

The Third-Party Cookie Is Crumbling. Here’s Why That’s Good for Digital Advertising.

Dustin McManus
February 28, 2024

While bucket hats and crop tops with baggy jeans continue their bewildering resurgence, one 90s mainstay is very much on its way out: the cookie.

Since the mid-1990s, cookies have played a pivotal role in digital advertising on the internet. And while they’ve stuck around much longer than your typical viral meme or online trend, 2024 is set to be the year the cookie finally crumbles.

Google’s goal of deprecating all cookies by the end of the year is in full-swing, with 1% of cookies from Chrome traffic turned off already. They’re joining Safari and other browsers that have already shut down cookies in an effort to improve online privacy. This step by Google is significant seeing as how Chrome owns more than 60% of browser market share.

While there’s a lot of hemming and hawing in the advertising world over cookie deprecation because — checks notes — change is scary, cookieless advertising will actually prove advantageous in the long-run. That’s because it presents a massive opportunity for advertisers to refocus on what (or in this case, who) really matters: the customer.

But to understand why the future is bright for digital advertising in a cookieless world, it’s important to understand the utility cookies have provided advertisers for decades, the objections many have toward cookies, and the other, more useful tools (did someone say intent?) advertisers have at their disposal.

Half-Baked: The Origin of the Cookie

Cookies originated as a way to enhance user experience by collecting and storing information about visitors to a given website. They are a small file of information a web server generates and then sends to a browser. The information in these files includes everything from geolocation to browsing history to a user’s individual preferences.

It wasn’t long until advertisers recognized the potential of cookies for tracking and targeting purposes. Cookies enable advertisers to collect data on a user’s online activity to deliver more personalized ads to them based upon their interests, demographics, and past interactions.

Cookies have been the driving force of online advertising and digital marketing strategies for decades. In fact, new types (flavors, if you will) of cookies have sprung up over the years so that advertisers could glean even more valuable insights from consumers.

Third-party cookies, for instance, are ones placed by other domains outside of the one a user is currently visiting. They greatly extend the ability for advertisers to track users across various websites and platforms in order to deliver highly tailored ads based on an individual’s online behavior.

Third-party cookies are also the ones being completely phased out by Google this year.

The Shift to Cookieless Advertising

There’s one primary reason why the cookie has overstayed its welcome for most consumers: privacy.

As regulatory measures and mandates including GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act have gone into effect in recent years, there’s been growing scrutiny around the collection and safeguarding of user data collected by cookies. 

Increased awareness and demand for consumer privacy coupled with restrictions on cookie usage have led some advertisers to leave the cookies in the jar altogether, even before Google’s deprecation announcement. In turn, the move toward cookieless advertising has been a long time coming.

With browsers blocking third-party cookies left and right, and consumers more frequently opting out of sharing their online data, the complete deprecation of cookies is less of a cataclysmic shift and more of an opportunity for forward-looking advertisers to capitalize upon as the digital advertising landscape continues to evolve.

Why Advertisers Should Embrace a Cookieless Future

It can be hard to give up a seemingly good thing. That’s certainly true for cookies. In a 2021 survey, just over half of marketers doubled down on the importance of cookies while only 10% waved them off as “unimportant.”

Now’s the time for those roughly 50% of marketers to look beyond the limited utility of cookies and into better alternatives — partly because it’s the smart thing to do strategically and partly because by the end of this year, they’ll basically have no other choice.

Cookieless advertising represents a gateway to innovation. It will compel businesses to pursue more sophisticated means of understanding and connecting with their customers, building more authentic, longer-term relationships in the process that produce greater lifetime value for brands.

This cookieless approach will take work, but the end result will unlock new avenues for growth and engagement that will fundamentally reshape how brands and consumers interact online.

Let’s take a look at how harnessing consumer intent, rather than cookies, can help brands stay ahead of the curve by refocusing on what customers actually want at specific moments in time, rather than what they may have wanted in the past.

From Cookies to Consumer Intent

The greatest weapon advertisers have in their arsenal in the wake of cookie deprecation is consumer intent. We might argue that intent has always been superior to cookies, because understanding and being able to shape intent creates a more ideal consumer experience.

Targeting ads based on the real-time, expressed intent of consumers empowers advertisers to deliver more relevant content to them in relation to what they’re consuming or looking for at that given moment.

As consumer behavior continues to evolve rapidly, understanding their intent will become paramount. Moving away from cookies, advertisers should integrate the four intent types into their strategy to make online shopping and search more relevant and frictionless.

  1. Open Intent: Inspire consumers with every new open of an app, browser, or device session—all before a single keyword is typed.
  2. Category Intent: Influence purchases with targeted ads as shoppers indicate the reason for their search.
  3. Product Intent: Deliver the most relevant match when shoppers search for your products.
  4. Brand Intent: Win the search journey for your brand as soon as interest is expressed.

By recentering the customer and their needs to the very center of your advertising strategy through intent, cookieless advertising becomes less of a forced shift and more of a savvy digital advertising approach that produces greater engagement, conversions, and lifetime value.

So, fear not advertisers! Though cookies may be heading into that eternal oven in the sky, a more fulfilling treat in the form of consumer intent is available to ensure that your advertising strategy in 2024 and beyond is perfectly baked.

To learn more about how you can create ideal search experiences across diverse moments of intent, visit our solutions page today.