Targeted Ads in a Cookie-less World

How will digital marketers do what they do, without cookies?

Wooden figures with ties are blindfolded and their body language suggests they are lost
Written By
Emel Rizwani
Published On
November 4, 2020

Targeted ads in a cookie-less world

Cookies – the ones you’re asked to accept when you visit a website – won’t be around for much longer. Data privacy concerns and increased scrutiny over the commercial collection and use of data have caused cookies to fall out of favour.

Which is good, because we all want data practices to be fair and transparent. But it does beg the question, how will digital marketers do what they do, without cookies?

What are cookies?

Back in the early ’90s, when big boxy computers had become a standard feature in most homes and we were all familiar with the whir and whistle that signalled an internet connection, websites were largely blind. They had no way to track what their visitors were doing or how to find them again to tempt them back.

And so, in this extremely succinct edition of internet history, the cookie was invented.

[Necessary techie bit] Cookies are data files. Web browsers save them to a user’s computer to fetch images, or track site preferences and login status. Translation: they make the user experience feel more seamless. You know when you log in to your preferred supermarket, and your details preload? That’s a cookie remembering you.

Advertisers use cookies to better understand users based on their online habits and behaviours. Cookies enable us to deliver our message to those users who are likely to be interested in it, rather than waste ad budget scatter-gunning the whole world with what might be a really niche offer. So, as you can imagine, cookies play a significant role in measuring the success of any ad campaign.

Why are cookies problematic?

Historically, users were blissfully unaware of the collection, sharing and use of their private data, which was all made possible by… cookies.

Nowadays we are well aware, and the protection of personal data has (quite rightly) become a universal priority. So much so that browsers have started to remove the ability for websites to use third-party cookies for marketing.

In January of 2020, even Google announced that it will phase out third-party cookies from its Chrome browser within 2 years. Which leaves marketers somewhat unstuck!

What can we do without them?

The more pertinent question is what can’t we do without them?

  • Audience building
  • Behavioural targeting – and retargeting
  • Frequency management and optimisaiton
  • Campaign measurement
  • Attribution

All of these practices, all cornerstones to building a profitable ad funnel, rely on cookies. We are already seeing that as cookies are restricted, Facebook ad campaigns are getting more difficult to scale as the data becomes less and less accurate.

While increased consumer privacy is, without doubt, a good thing, what we need now is a new approach to media, tech and measurement. Naturally, the big brains are already working on it. New technology solutions are already being developed to support the advertising ecosystem and enable marketers to continue to generate revenue.

So how do we prepare for a cookie-less future?

These are interesting times indeed. As marketers, we know what we need and we know when we need it. But we don’t yet know what form it will take.

Will everyone adhere to one universal public solution? Or will groups or individual giants (looking at you, Facebook) go off and do their own thing? The truth is, we don’t yet know.

What we do know is that personally identifiable information such as email address, postal address, and date of birth, are likely to be key to the future of tracking and targeting. In other words, if you want to be prepared for a cookie-less future, you need to get to know your users a lot better.

Simply put, you should be giving your customers a reason to log in or register with you. Offering them a more personal or exclusive connection with your brand will not only add value to their user experience (which does wonders for your referrals and repeat business!) but in the long run, also gives you the capability to stay in touch with them once cookies have been banished forever.

Get in touch to learn more about how Red Gem can help you connect with your prospects online. 


1. A really interesting interview with Lou Montulli, the cookiemonster inventor

2. More interesting reading on cookies, web-tracking and GDPR, here