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Cookie Tracking and You

Published: June 21, 2012

Author: Sean Nowlin

I always feel like somebody’s watching me

I have no privacy oh o oh

I always feel like somebody’s watching me

tell me is it just a dream

Rockwell – Somebody’s Watching Me

I am biased and fully realize it. Being in the online marketing industry, I prefer custom messaging. My time is valuable, and I know that multiple times per day I will be enticed with advertisements. Those ads come in all shapes and sizes during the waking hours. If I’m going to pay attention, the message better be relevant to my wants and needs.
Is it any wonder that DVRs have become so popular? In addition to allowing on-demand consumption, those magical little boxes allow us all to skip commercials. With the exception of the Super Bowl or other appointment television, does anyone actually watch those 30-second spots?
One reason people’s patience for advertising has worn thin is the intrusion into an increasingly busy life (example A: the telemarketing calls during dinner). But how do we create advertising that does not annoy? The easy answer here is to be funny, but humor cannot possible sell everything. Instead, there is another path to take: relevancy is key.
In the offline world, it is a lot harder to target the message. But in online advertising, cookie tracking changes that. Being able to identify cookies by their online behavior means the difference between your dad seeing an ad for Lexus or one for Dora The Explorer.
Recently, Microsoft announced that its next version of Internet Explorer will ship with “Do Not Track” defaulted to on. This means it will be a lot harder to target cookies online. And ad execs are freaking. The disappearance of online tracking will make positive ROI very difficult, especially in the display world. I’m sure that if the ad apocalypse happened, we’d all find alternatives…but man oh man, would the industry turn inside out.
Anytime I think of the privacy debate, the above song by Rockwell always pops in my head. I envision angry consumers sitting at their computers thinking that online marketers are right behind their computer screens. This is simply not the case. Personally identifiable information (PII) should always be removed from the equation. Notice that in this whole post I’ve talked about tracking cookies, not tracking people.
The biggest issue with online privacy concerns is that people think we all know exactly what websites John Smith of 1234 Main Street, Anytown, USA, visited last Sunday. In reality, we know that cookie ID #3456873 likes to look at Williams Sonoma and Zappos. Sure, there are a few nefarious parties out there willing to completely invade someone’s privacy to make an extra buck. But the large majority of us in the marketing industry are cool with stripping PII out of the equation.
I know that we, as human beings, are a reactionary species. Sometimes we have to take a few extra seconds to think before entering full-on freak-out mode. It’s up to the online marketing industry to educate consumers. (Most Gmail users, for example, have no idea exactly what they give up to get all those gigabytes of space.) Instead of untargeted irrelevant messaging, cookie tracking can tailor messages that don’t waste time. If I’m going to be bombarded with advertising all day long, my only wish is that it all be pertinent to me.
Sean Nowlin, Senior Display Media Manager

25 E Washington Street
Suite 420

Chicago, IL 60602

(650) 539-4124

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