POV: Third Party Tracking, What Advertisers and Brands Should Know

December 5th, 2013


Third-party tracking (also known as cookies), the technology advertisers use to track consumer behavior across the Internet has been in existence for years, but is now under heavy scrutiny. This cookie action serves as an identifier that allows both brands and publishers to define their consumer audiences and target these audiences with the right message. We need to consider what approach our online marketing efforts should take if relying on third party cookies becomes increasingly more difficult in the near future.

Data Tracking, Where is the Industry Heading

Third-party tracking has been under fire as a result of increased privacy concerns online. Consequently, there has been an increase in buzz around tapping into first-party data online because of these concerns.  Some web browsers are blocking the use of 3rd party cookies, such as Safari and Mozilla.  Combined with the surge of mobile device growth (which do not allow cookie tracking), the ability to track a user’s behaviors will become increasingly difficult.  First-party data will grow increasingly more important to tap into in order to target consumers.

Types of Tracking or Unique Identifiers

Before jumping in further on next steps, it is important to note the different types of tracking, which are currently being used in the online marketplace.

1st party data tracking: First party cookies are identifiers that are set by the website a user is visiting such as Google, MSN or an eCommerce site, which allow the site to provide a better experience and functionality, including the ability to log into an account, add items to a shopping cart or sign up for email program/alerts.  According to Mozilla (Mozilla, April 12, 2012) “first-party as web content with which users have “meaningful interaction.” So as long as someone has visited a company’s site, or clicked on its link, that company’s URL would be considered first-party for that person.”

3rd party data tracking: Third party cookies are small tracers saved to your web browser that follows your online activity, through desktop and tablet.  These are set by an advertising partner of the website/publisher which, among other things, enables the partners to load content onto the webpage or to load ads on behalf of advertisers and collect relevant anonymous data. Mobile devices cannot host a 3rd party cookie. Third party tracking/cookies allow companies to create web profiles on the user.  This data is then compiled into profiles, which then can target users in the form of re-targeting, look-a-like modeling and behavioral targeting, which will be discussed later.

Other forms of tracking:

  1. Privacy compliant IP based targeting capabilities
  2. Internet Access (ISP/Carrier) based targeting
  3. Contextual and Content based targeting

My Response, where do we go from here?

Third-party cookies are widely accepted in the industry to track and attribute events to the measurement of performance for campaigns, such as retargeting and look-a-like modeling. However, due to privacy concerns, it is inevitable that there will be shift away from third party tracking in some capacity. Utilizing first party data will create a closer connection between brand and audience. Such tactics are outlined below on next steps.

  • The use of the 3rd party cookies allows advertisers to re-target consumers on the publisher or network sites. This type of targeting is not going away overnight. It is a customary practice within the industry. Incorporating a DMP (Data Management Platform), would be a good first step in incorporating 3rd party data and marrying it with 1st party data. A DMP collects,  centralizes, controls and activate brand data from first- and third-party data sources, and organizes and distributes the information to various marketing, customer service, or advertising platforms.
  • CRM/Email database, a first party data warehouse, will offer a wealth of consumer insight, along with a cross-channel opportunity moving from display, video, mobile, social and email. Leveraging first party technology can help better understand your audience and isolate high performing placements, driving scale against performance metrics by mapping out a cross-channel journey and providing a solution.
  • Broaden partnerships with the portals and premium networks that have access to first party data. This is essential, because as advertisers we need to know how consumers are accessing information and making important brand decisions across multiple devices. C-K has partnerships with premium sites and portals to have better transparency and value within the media buys.
  • Another type of unique identifier is also on the horizon, which is known as IPV6. This will give every computer and every device a static permanent unique identifier, at which point IPV6 will replace not only cookies, but also fingerprinting and every other form of tracking identification. This is not happening right away, but something to keep on our radar as the online marketing landscape continues to evolve.  This is still a few years out before being implemented.


While this 3rd party cookie data is not disappearing overnight, it is a subject that we need to keep on the forefront of our conversations between agencies, technology companies and our partners. The current model of buying and targeting users is going to change in the future. The power of 1st party data will become more critical as 3rd party data becomes less of an influencer in some situations. With that change, who we partner with and how we target and talk to consumers across all devices will even be more critical.  Agencies should have conversations with brand partners to discuss leveraging first party data to target consumers.

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