New ‘cookie law’​ could be the final smackdown for digital retargeting

First GDPR, now ePrivacy… permission marketing has never been so relevant

Way back in 1999, Seth Godin penned Permission Marketing, a revolutionary paper that sought to steer marketers away from an entrenched and outdated model of disruptive advertising, a model that simply snared a consumers attention in whatever way possible, and instead favour a permission based approach. This new methodology respected the customer, genuinely understood their likes and dislikes and served them interesting content or advertisements that they would actively choose to engage with. At the time it was utopian.

Well Seth, we should have listened.

Ironically, it seems like Permission Marketing now holds a relevance more than ever as digital advertisers are slowly but surely backed into a corner where the only way out is a trap door labelled, ‘permission‘.

Following 2017’s introduction of the GDPR, a law enforced to ensure data handlers, controllers and processors of every variety address consumer data privacy, 2018 signals the arrival of the ‘cookie law’ or it’s less glamorous title, the ePrivacy law.

GDPR has frankly dominated the market’s attention for the last year. It’s also had a profoundly negative impact on the value of digital ad impressions, the size of customer databases and the general consumer attitude towards traditional digital advertising. This has paved the way for more nuanced revenue models to spring up from the embers of cost per click and cost per view.

But ePrivacy brings a more refined and precise limitation to cookie data and retargeting.

The ‘cookie law’ does exactly what it says on the cookie tin, it seeks to provide web visitors with more clarity on the cookies that advertisers frequently drop into their browsers; leading to greater restrictions and tighter limitations on the type of cookies that can be dropped and the data they can harvest. The ePrivacy law is on the verge of being rolled out internationally:

“The new ePrivacy law has received far less attention than the GDPR, partly because the regulation hasn’t been set in stone, and ad trade bodies were confident they could water down the terms. But their optimism was dented last week when the European Parliament voted for the law to go to the next stage, ignoring any lobbying to date. Businesses ignore ePrivacy at their own peril because the fines for flouting it will mirror those for the GDPR.”

-Digiday 2018

The ‘cookie law’ will be particularly damaging to ad vendors who use third-party cookie networks to build granular and detailed buyer profiles by connecting a chain of data points. For example, a prospect may get site of an ad in an automotive magazine, weeks later be spotted again on a third-party Audi dealership sight and finally be connected via a Facebook ad; leading to a full-fat profile that can be readily exchanged to an awaiting brand or advertiser looking for bottom of the funnel leads.

Cookies are at the core of all behavioural marketing and advertising, with advertisers using them to build a picture of people’s interests by tracking which websites they visit. Once someone visits a site that shows one of their ads, they can tailor the ad’s message to cater to the person’s inferred interests.

In principle, cookies should have worked for the consumer. After all, there’s evidence to suggest that customers are far more likely to favour an advert that holds some relevance to their browsing behaviour. Retargeting ensures that customers only see ads of products or services that they’ve previously interacted with. However, cookie abuse has spiralled and they’re now predominantly used to harvest data from unsuspecting web visitors and can often be invasive and extremely persistent, flying well below customer consciousness.

ePrivacy laws don’t necessarily mean the end of cookie data or retargeting but ad vendors will need to be more mindful of consumer permission both literally and metaphorically. Vendors will not only have a responsibility but a legal obligation to acquire written customer permission at every cookie data point. Vendors will be obliged to prompt a web visitor with a permission form and box tick, every-time a new cookie is deployed.

Equally, advertisers should look to do far more with their creative to ensure advertisements are genuinely targeted and will spark a real and wholesome interest with their potential prospects.

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