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Interview with Aleksej HEINZE, KEDGE Global Executive MBA Professor

Aleksej HEINZE is a Associate Professor of Digital Marketing Strategy at KEDGE Business School.

In the Executive MBA you are teaching “Digital Marketing Strategy”.  What exactly does it cover?

It actually covers how digital channels such as search engines and social media have transformed the way organizations engage with their customers. Digital marketing offers a growing number of creative communication and engagement opportunities due to its constantly changing and dynamic nature. The aim of the course is to outline this dynamic digital marketing landscape and highlight strategic planning and thinking tools, in order to help managers to structure their digital marketing activities. For example, a striking recent aspect of this is the “Cookiepocalypse”. 

Can you explain what you mean there ?

Cookiepocalypse is the fun term used to signal the end of third party cookies era. And you are very likely to be affected by this change as a digital marketer or casual Internet end user… However, Google with a dominant market position of its Chrome web browser as well as its Google Ads services is likely to get more criticism regardless of what it will make. It will either be struggling to satisfy the privacy campaigners or the needs of advertisers. Striking the right balance is one of the reasons for postponing the removal of third party cookies use on its Chrome web browser, from 2022 to 2023. 

What exactly is a cookie?

The internet was designed for a stateless communication. This means that once your computer downloaded a web page through your web browser from a distant web server, there is no connection between your computer and the web site which you visited. How can the website know that you have visited it in the past? – this is where “cookies” technology becomes key with a small text file that is saved on your computer via your web browser. For instance, cookies could be information such as your username and access preferences – these are all very important for your active interaction with a website.

We more and more hear about “third party” cookies, what are they exactly ?

Like the normal cookie that helps to interact with a website, a third party cookie is also a small file that is stored on your computer. However, instead of allowing interaction with the website, it is allowing interaction with a “third party” – another website that is not the main aim of your website visit. An example can be an advertiser network that allows them to identify you as someone who visited another website before and “serve” you a targeted advert from that old website based on the content you visited on that site. In reality, these cookies are trackers that allow you to be re-targeted by advertisers with specific content. These cookies are responsible when an item you might have seen on Amazon now appears on your visit of a local newspaper website… when you are not expecting it!  

And should one care about them ?

As an end user you already have options on many websites to select the types of cookies you save on your devices – your phone or computer. You have options to install AdBlock plugins to your web browser to reduce the proliferation of third-party cookies. Removal of these can significantly change your online advertising material experience. For example, if you don’t want to see ads on YouTube you have the option to make a monthly payment and you are not going to see any explicit ads on YouTube at least. 

You also have options to regularly remove all third-party cookies from your devices through your web browser settings. However, not many people make use of these tools and settings. Therefore, a number of privacy improvement focused projects are working towards improving the situation. Their challenge is to find a new solution for the post third party cookie world that helps digital marketers to advertise online as well as individuals to have better control over their privacy (see .

The opportunity to prevent the tracking as you browse the web as well as help to develop the web is an open source movement was started by Chrome and you can get involved! (See )

Does the end user need to worry about third party cookies? Are they evil? 

If we assume that all advertisers are “evil” and only want to sell you something, yes being tracked by third party cookies does not sound like a great prospect. However, for anyone who attended my digital marketing classes at least, the digital marketing objectives are to serve only the relevant messages to the relevant audiences… Arguably, advertisers are helping forgetful prospects that there was an item or a service which was of interest to them a while ago… 

We also need to recognise that Google is offering a public service for free, and we pay with our privacy and consumption of ads for this service. This might mean that like with the use of YouTube, there might be a business model where you need to subscribe to Google to enjoy its services free of ads… 

Several bloggers or vloggers who create online content and attract audiences to their websites currently make a living by serving ads on their website. This business model helps several organisations using services such as AdSense to survive and receives advertising revenue from those who show ads on their websites. Third party cookies help these websites to make money.   

To which extent will users be affected ?

With a search engine market share of over 90% worldwide and a global share of over 60% of the web browser market, Google and Chrome are likely to be part of your internet life in one way or another. The Privacy Sandbox Initiative has received some negative comments from Chrome competitors who rejected earlier this year the participation in a trial for the technology developed by the Privacy Sandbox Initiative called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). 

Will Google be able to go alone without any of the other web browser support? There are a number of issues that emerge from this project and certainly the privacy vs advertising industry argument are not always easy to resolve. 

Now we pay for our privacy and receive the service “for free”. However, you could also pay a fee. History will show, but other business models might mean that users will have an option to use the Internet ads free if they pay a service fee… If we remove third party cookies, an alternative will need to be manageable for digital marketers – unless we are going to a digital world where ads will resemble offline advertising billboards which have less relevance to us compared to targeted advertising messages that we now have…

The final question is: will you be happy to pay for the use of Chrome and or Google knowing that you will not see any ads and your privacy will be protected?

Thank you for this insight AH, a last couple of words on other issues dealt with in your “Digital Marketing Strategy” course? 

Digital marketing is a constantly evolving field with a number of threats and of course opportunities. Organisations that are able to harness the power of the increasingly digital connected consumer will always have a strategic competitive advantage. The digital marketing strategy course helps to understand the opportunities and better estimate the market using insights from tools such as SEMrush, Google Ads and many others.

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