It’s time to slay the internet’s ‘Cookie Monster’

Any conversation within the European marketing community these days soon turns to the General Data Protection Regulation. The impending GDPR brings about new data protection rules, heralding an unprecedented level of consumer protection. Going into effect in May of next year, the specific targeting of individuals without expressed permission will be outlawed.

All global brands wishing to engage with Europeans should heed the change. At the moment, if a customer knowingly contacts an American company, then EU data protection legislation doesn’t really apply to them. However, once the new GDPR comes into full force (on May 25, 2018), the EU data protection laws will apply to the American companies, so they’ll have to comply with all the notification requirements and data storage/retention obligations.

It could prove to be quite onerous. But did you know that any brand that drops a cookie on Europeans visiting a website could fall foul? Which is why some US companies are considering having firewalls put in place to prevent people with EU IP addresses from accessing their websites.

It’s a bit of a minefield — and it’s easy to feel insulted. After all, smart marketers make every effort to put the customer first. So, we intuitively recoil when more red tape is brought in. Aren’t our jobs hard enough to begin with?

But on reflection, maybe it’s not so bad.

Consumers are wary of the ‘Cookie Monster’

Let’s remember why the law is changing. Our customers are requesting it. They’re fed up with being targeted with irrelevant ads, disappointed when their favorite brands fail to understand them, and scared of being stalked on the internet by the “Cookie Monster.”

Privacy and consent are, unfortunately, headline news, causing distress and concern in our communities. We should be mindful of our responsibilities and the privilege of communicating with our audiences. Perhaps it’s time to slay the Cookie Monster!

The current legislation was created for a different age. Data now plays a much more central role in our marketing efforts.

Consumers currently lack trust when it comes to how their data is protected and used. It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that a survey by Unicom division Macro 4 found that nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of UK consumers would like stricter rules on data collection and the tracking of their online behavior — such as sites they visit, ads they click on and purchases they make.

Yet we love it when the brands we choose understand who we are and what we like. Great service brands like the Ritz-Carlton and the Fairmont score well when they remember your name and your preferred room choice — but that’s if you gave permission by signing up for a loyalty card first. The value exchange is equal. However, if you walked into the hotel for the first time, without the loyalty card, and the receptionist knew all that stuff, then the experience would be as creepy as the Bates Motel.

The last couple of years have seen great efforts from marketers to collect and store data — any data — as much as possible! We’ve become data hoarders. It’s become a challenge to see the forest for the trees.

GDPR is an opportunity to rebalance and focus on the quality of that data. Let’s place more effort on improving the communications — better creative, messages and media placement through targeting.

An opportunity to focus on quality

Marketing has long been a blend of art and science. The advent of GDPR is an opportunity to refocus on the quality of marketing content, providing a more relevant, transparent and personalized experience for the customer.

Marketers will rediscover their creativity, producing more exciting, engaging and innovative campaigns.

Once GDPR is enforced, it will no longer be acceptable for brands to follow consumers with adverts based on old and possibly archaic cookie behavior.

Instead, brands will engage the right consumers, based on their current behavior, by identifying the right context for their message. For example, instead of advertising shoes to a customer because he or she was looking at shoes a couple of days ago, marketers will be able to engage with consumers when they are looking at shoes right now, making their message more relevant for the customer.

For all marketers — in the US, Europe, globally — GDPR is the catalyst for rediscovering ways to re-engage the customer, rebuild trust and provide better marketing opportunities.

About The Author

Malcolm Cox
Malcolm Cox is CMO of Grapeshot, a role he took on after gaining experience in the media, music and agency worlds. Malcolm spent thirteen years working with music and media company Emap, where he created the Magic brand and launched Kiss -- both radio stations -- and reinvigorated weekly music magazine Kerrang! After Emap, Malcolm founded brand activation agency Naked Lunch. Here he created award-winning work for Sony, Nokia, Kickers, IKEA and Nike, staying on at the Naked Group as a director after selling the agency in 2008.