Making The Case: A Marketer’s POV on Cookie Consent

March 2, 2021

Yesterday I had the pleasure of contacting my internet service provider’s technical support team to resolve a slower than normal connection. I had just set up my new modem, but Hulu still wouldn’t load, so I asked if it could be my WiFi router. I expected a sales pitch on renting one from them, what I got was the following: 

Technical Support: That might be the issue, yes. You can either buy a new one or rent one from us. But I would say – if you buy one, it’s going to be super annoying for you because you’re going to have to set up a separate account directly through them vs. us.

Me: Hmm… so they can help me troubleshoot if this happens again?

Technical Support: No, they’ll have you call us. It’s so they can collect data on you. Everyone else wants a piece of the data pie, you can’t escape it. Which is why I’m happy to hear you say you’re calling from an iPhone. Apple is the only one who gets this – they’re the only one on the consumer’s side.

Me: *dumbfounded* Uh… okay. I’ll look into that.

What blew my mind wasn’t what he said. It was that he said it. Sure, he’s Technical Support at a major ISP provider, but he’s not in ad tech, he isn’t living and breathing news around the current identity crisis our industry is going through. He’s not subscribed to Adweek’s weekly newsletters. And it got me thinking… 

Apple is winning on privacy with everyday consumers for one simple reason: they’re doing what they do best. They’re speaking directly to them. In one word: they’re marketing.

Over the past year, I have been accosted with thousands – if not millions – of website pop-ups asking if I’ll allow cookie dropping on their site. This has happened both on desktop, and even more annoyingly, on my iPhone within Safari (where no cookies exist, full stop). The messaging is nearly always the same: “We use cookies to improve and personalize your advertising experience on this site. Will you allow cookies?”

First of all – Who wrote this?! I’m one of those weirdos who loves the digital advertising industry to my core – loves the concept of personalization – and even I don’t want to click allow. Personalize my experience? Meaning you’re going to stalk me around the internet with products I didn’t purchase or articles I didn’t click? No thanks, recipe website, I’m good. Just tell me how long to cook the chicken. 

My POV? These messages are in dire need of a marketer. They’re myopically focused on what clicking allows them to do (or not do), and they fail to show any value – either click or don’t click – to their consumers. 

Let’s try something else:

Hate website paywalls? Us too. The cookie-enabled advertising on this site allows us to provide this (and so much more!) content to you, free of charge. Also, it helps us understand what ads you might actually find helpful (vs. super annoying) from our advertising partners. Will you allow cookies on your browser?

Okay, it’s not perfect – but it’s a stab. It explains the why behind the thing, not just the what of the thing and how it works. It’s a golden circle (if you don’t know what that is, now you know).

All of this is to say: as marketers in the digital advertising industry, we have got to do better if we want to continue enjoying the foundational benefits (like understanding our reach, frequency, relevance, and ROI) that this industry is built on. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for the enviable heat death of the cookie – we’ve had a band-aid solution on that one for way too long – but cookies aren’t and won’t be the last thing we fight to keep. The conversation we’re having shouldn’t be: is opt-in or opt-out better? The conversation needs to be what message is going to convey the value of what we’re asking?

I say this daily, but somehow it seems to always fit: we need to start with the why. And that why needs to focus on the consumer, not on us.