Cookies Explained: A baked goods analogy

Mar 27, 2024


At a Glance...

Cookies have been a hot topic in 2024. But are you struggling to get your head around the recent changes?

We’ve got you covered with an easy baker’s guide.

First-Party Cookies: Your Local Baker Remembers Your Order

Picture this. You walk into your favourite bakery. The baker greets you with a smile and picks up a sticky note from your jumper. He reads it and asks: “The usual seeded loaf?” How did he know? Because the sticky note on your jumper carries information from previous interactions. First-party cookies work the same. They carry information about how you’ve used the site in the browser. In this metaphor, the sticky note is the cookie, the jumper is the browser, and the store is the site. The cookies help the site remember key information.

There are many ways to classify first-party cookies. The most important one is essential or non-essential. Essential cookies are imperative for the site function and include the likes of basket data, user inputs, logins, etc. Inversely, “non-essential” cookies do not stop a user from using the full extent of the site’s proposition if blocked. These include personalisation cookies (language, light/dark mode), and more. Cookies can also be divided by their runtime, with session cookies and persistent cookies. Persistent cookies store information even if the browser is closed. Session cookies only hold them for the duration of the session.

Critically, first-party cookies are only available to the site that uses them. To extend the baker metaphor, it’s as if only the bakery staff could see the sticky notes and their content. They are generally considered harmless and benefit the users as much as the site operators.

Third-Party Cookies: The Mystery Shopper Following You Around Town

Imagine that while you’re at the bakery, a stranger follows you, noting down everything you buy at other stores. These are like third-party cookies, placed by companies other than the website you’re visiting. They track your activity across different websites, building a detailed profile of your interests and online behaviour. When you step into the bakery, the staff can see these and offer you the baked goods they think are most pertinent.

Third-party cookies are used for targeted advertising, showing you ads based on your browsing habits. Ever notice how, after searching for shoes online, you see shoe ads popping up everywhere? That’s thanks to third-party cookies connecting the dots between your browsing activity and ad networks. While they can offer relevant ads, they also raise privacy concerns, as you’re being tracked without your explicit consent.

The Cookie Crumbles: What Advertisers Face Without Third-Party Treats

The good news for privacy advocates is that third-party cookies are on their way out. Browsers like Chrome and Firefox are phasing them out to give users more control over their data. For advertisers, however, this means their recipe for targeted advertising needs a revamp.

The disappearance of third-party cookies doesn’t mean the end of advertising, but it necessitates a shift towards first-party data and contextual targeting. Advertisers will need to focus on building strong relationships with their customers and collecting data directly from them. Contextual targeting involves placing ads based on the content of the webpage rather than individual user profiles.

The future of advertising might be less personalised, but it could also be more respectful of user privacy. Just like your local baker, who remembers your favourite bagel without needing to follow you around town, advertisers can find new ways to reach their audience without compromising user data. 

Pierre Daudré-Vignier, Senior Performance Manager

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