Digital advertising is experiencing a metamorphosis

10 July 2023

Now that third-party cookies are on their way out, companies have to start using their own data. Expert Jacob Eeckhout, who leads the Center of Excellence Marketing at iO, sees opportunities for many companies to build closer customer relationships after the initial panic. "When companies have to build campaign strategies using their own first-party data, their users can easily become less open. Transparency and control will restore trust between brands and consumers."


This article was originally published on  

iO is built on four pillars: strategy, technology, content & creation, and marketing. Centers of Excellence (CoEs) exchange knowledge around each of these four pillars, across the group's campuses. To encourage an active culture of knowledge sharing, iO has defined 4 areas that the CoE can invest in: expert groups, strategic vision, training, and support. The end of third-party cookies is the biggest revolution that digital marketing has ever experienced.   

"These big tech companies are feeling the pressure from users and governments," Eeckhout explains. "Awareness about privacy has increased significantly, internet users want more transparency and control over their personal data. Google, but also Facebook, for example, have not stopped tracking third-party data because they are suddenly concerned about our privacy. These companies sense that users are withdrawing, and that the legislation is also becoming more strict. Governments are catching up with the tech companies and holding them to account." 

"I don't know if Google or Facebook have any feelings about the end of the third-party cookies. They have been around since 1994 and marketers have really made the most of it. They've gone so far — too far if you ask me — and everyone has got third-party cookies fatigue. The game is up. We don’t want to be constantly chased and harassed by advertisers online." 

"The game is up. We don’t want to be constantly chased and harassed by advertisers online."

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Apocalypse Cookie

The end of the third-party cookies makes sense and is not entirely unexpected, but it has still turned the world of digital advertising upside down. Eeckhout shows the cover of Adforum, a Dutch magazine: 'Apocalypse Cookie', screams the title, above an edited image of Francis Ford Coppola's classic film 'Apocalypse Now'.

"That seems like an exaggeration, but there has been some panic at many companies," says Eeckhout. "For years, they've relied on the personal data they bought from big tech companies. With the introduction of the GDPR, they knew something was coming, but the withdrawal of third-party cookies is even more drastic. Now, it's starting to dawn on them that they need to radically change their advertising model."

"In the future, first-party data will play the leading role. Companies need to build campaigns using customer and visitor data they’ve collected themselves."

"In the future, first-party data will  play a leading role. Companies have to use their own visitor and user data to build campaigns. That's still a bit of a mystery for now. Most companies are in the innovation phase and are experimenting with the possibilities that their own data offers them. I am convinced that we are at a tipping point. Companies weren’t asking for the end of third-party data, but this revolution is an opportunity to build closer customer relationships. An opportunity to be transparent, to return control to consumers and restore trust."  

Companies need to change the way they collect data 

"The most important revolution is that users are less willing to share. In the past, they clicked on 'accept all' without much thought and lost their personal data forever. Now they think much more consciously about who can hold their personal data and what they want in return. As a company, you really have to change your approach to that personal data. 

"I subscribe to about ten newsletters that I find extremely interesting. They give me new insights and keep me up to date on evolutions in my profession. Well, the companies behind those newsletters don’t need to worry about my data. More than ever, data is becoming currency, a medium of exchange, a payment method if you like. This exchange operation is based on added value. Do I not receive any added value? Ok, then you won't get my data. If companies depend entirely on their own data for their advertisements and marketing campaigns, they will have to offer more added value. I am convinced that the end of third-party cookies will lead to stronger content and more creative campaigns. 

"If companies have to collect their own data, they are also forced to think about exactly what data they need. The big tech companies focused on getting as much data as possible, the quality or relevance was less important. This approach often resulted in approximate targeting, which was not always accurate. That started to repel users. With first-party data, quality is more important than quantity. For example, some webshops ask for gender and date of birth in the check-out. You may wonder what that's good for."  

A new era of personalisation and scale 

Eeckhout already sees a few clear trends and evolutions emerging in the 'post-third-party cookies' era. "A company like IKEA gives customers the opportunity to personalise the furniture chain's offerings. If you live alone and have no children, you will not be offered children's rooms. If you live in the city and don't have a garden, you won't see garden furniture. The catalogue is tailored to your personal situation. But and that is the big difference with the past, that only happens if you explicitly give the green light for it yourself. Transparency and control are key. In this way, brands will restore trust with internet users. 

"Another trend is scaling up; You can see this with groups like DPG Media. One login gives you access to content from the group’s entire ecosystem: all websites, newspapers, and magazines. The publisher makes it more attractive for you as a reader to make a login, because you get more value for money. In return, they get more data and knows more about you. That transaction is more balanced than it used to be." 

The campaign strategy also becomes a data strategy 

The (r)evolution to first-party data offers opportunities for companies, but according to Eeckhout it will also be hard work. "Buying data from Facebook or Google was easy and cheap. We regularly saw companies pumping large amounts of money into advertisements, while their own database was deficient. They had no incentive to clean up their data, because they just bought it from a third party." 

"We see companies tinkering with their model. Data is not only becoming even more important in any campaign strategy, it is also at the very front. With the third-party cookies, the data part traditionally only came at the end of the strategy. The marketers worked out campaign X for target group Y, and the data specialists then had to release their purchased data on it. Now the campaign strategy is also a data strategy. What data do we need? What exactly do we ask our users? What privacy guidelines do we apply? These are all questions that you should ask at the beginning of a strategy, not at the end." 

"At iO, we strongly believe in a blended approach. Not fragmented. Strategy, technology, content, and marketing under one roof. You can't separate data from that anymore." 

"This change makes data profiles, which are already scarce, even more popular. Companies not only have technological knowledge, if they evolve towards privacy by design, they must also know the regulations, for example. At iO, we strongly believe in the blended approach. No fragmented. Strategy, technology, content, and marketing under one roof. You can't separate data from that anymore."

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