Why cookies continue to get a bad reputation – and what brands can do

Jed is the chief marketing officer, responsible for Acxiom’s communications with its target audiences. Since joining Acxiom in 1996, Jed has held various leadership roles and has worked directly with leading brands such as P&G, Sony, Dell and Hearst. Prior to Acxiom, Jed worked for Cable & Wireless, Ernst & Young and was an officer in the Royal Navy.

We encounter cookies every day – and not all are of the sweet kind.

A common misconception about cookies is that they’re designed to be an intrusive tracking mechanism for companies wishing to know our every move and this leads consumers to believe they do not benefit from the data economy.

Do cookies benefit brands? Yes, of course. They give insights on consumers that can be used to deliver personalised content, encouraging them to work with or purchase a product from that brand.

However, by the same token, consumers should also be benefitting from this exchange. With cookies consumers get a more seamless experience online, being directed to the products and services most relevant to them, and often tailoring offers and suggestions to previous searches.

The disconnect has largely been caused by a lack of transparency in the way data is used, the level of information shared about the individual, and how it is used and protected in line with regulations such as the GDPR.

Notwithstanding the news from major platforms switching off third-party cookies, herein lies an opportunity for brands to get cookies right and increase transparency in this area.

What cookies do, and when we accept them

Usually a cookie is used to remember and tell a website some useful information about you if you’ve previously subscribed or, if not, about the person using the browser at the time.

For example, an online bookstore might use a persistent cookie to record the authors and titles of books you have ordered or looked at. When you return to the online bookstore, your browser lets the bookstore’s site read the cookie. The site might then compile a list of books by the same authors, or books on related topics, and show you that list.

According to new research (pdf), nearly half (48%) of consumers in the US and UK accept cookies most of the time or always. The same research, by Acxiom, found 55% of those surveyed took five seconds or less to do so. This means that despite data privacy concerns, many consumers are not making an informed, conscious decision about what they share, and who they share it with.

In the eyes of the consumer, not all cookies are made equal. People are most happy accepting cookies from online shopping sites. More than two fifths (45%) of consumers say these are the sites they are most comfortable receiving cookies from. Similarly, 40% of consumers are happy to accept cookies across social media networks.

However, just one in five consumers are comfortable receiving cookies from travel sites, and even fewer (13%) from content or lifestyle sites. It’s in these areas in particular that brands need to do better at presenting the benefits of cookie acceptance to individuals.

Across all industries, the important thing is for brands to show consumers that the data economy is working for them as well as businesses. To do this, companies should present layered cookie

notices in an easy to understand format (using infographics or videos for example) and at the appropriate time in order to explain more effectively how cookies are working for the consumer.

What brands should learn from this

Cookie banners are most consumers’ first recognisable touchpoint after they visit a brand’s website. Many see them as an unwanted part of their website experience but opt to accept them in order to access the website.

However, there is an opportunity for cookies to be more useful to brands wanting to build trust with their customers. After all, trust is often the missing ingredient in the success and sustainability of the data ecosystem.

In order to address a sense of inequality in the data exchange between businesses and consumers, the focus needs to be on showing people the benefits to them, in innovative and interesting ways, as well as addressing their concerns over data privacy.

Photo by SJ Baren on Unsplash

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2 comments on “Why cookies continue to get a bad reputation – and what brands can do

  1. Beth Chernes on

    In an age where brand trust is essential in marketing, cookies can often seem intrusive (and not explained very well) and erode that trust. I agree with, “Across all industries, the important thing is for brands to show consumers that the data economy is working for them as well as businesses.” It almost feels that the cookie needs a marketing strategy! G

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