Why aren’t brands making cookies fun?

Most of the terms used to describe how brands feel about tackling the new EU Cookie Directive are pejorative. “Confusion” and “irritation” seem to be the two nouns in regular rotation – so why are more brands not doing more to turn this annoyance around into something positive?

Lara O'Reilly

It’s just under a month to go until the EU Privacy and Communications Act is enforced in the UK, which requires every website owner to gain consent from users to use cookies that collect data on them. A fine of £500,000 if websites are not compliant is the massive incentive for brands to action this on time.

So far around 80% of brands are thought to have started or completed a cookie audit in order to comply with the directive, according to an ISBA poll, but many haven’t implemented a consumer facing consent option – seemingly holding out until 26 May.

For the majority of websites that have put cookie notifications on their sites already, the results are dull to say the least.

Many have simply listed every cookie their site collects, ensuring they dodge a hefty fine, but providing no benefit to their users. It is doubtful that the average user knows – or cares – what “third party tracking and analytics” cookies do, for example.

In fact, it’s unlikely the average consumer can accurately describe what cookies themselves actually are.

What a fantastic opportunity for brands to be perceived as bastions of knowledge throwing light on what this slice of technical jargon actually means and to lead the way by launching education campaigns to increase consumers’ awareness about how their data is collected and used online.

But apart from Google, which with the Citizens Advice Bureau ran a “Good To Know” marketing campaign in a bid to “demystify” the web (including how cookies work) last year, no other brand has followed that lead.

There’s an incentive too, beyond avoiding a whopping fine: Google has found that giving users a feeling of “transparency and control” over their data has actually led to people providing more information so they can receive better targeted advertising.

It makes complete sense that Google was the original authority brand on explaining user privacy to the masses, but more mass market brands need to get in on the act too if the population is going to really understand, with confidence, how cookies work.

In a way naming cookies “cookies” in the early ’90s was a fantastic piece of branding. They sound tasty and inoffensive and the word is nondescript enough to put most users off ever investigating how they work. That is soon going to change.

It shouldn’t just be down to technology brands to educate consumers about the ways of the web. It’s not just the technically savvy that use the internet and tech brands aren’t necessarily the most trusted. It seems astonishing that a major retailer, car marque or food brand hasn’t also made a bid to demystify cookies and above all, make them fun. The name “cookie” alone has given marketers a head start on this front.

Brands should be thinking about how they can really get their teeth into explaining how cookies operate and how they benefit their consumers – or else we’re going to see many worried people wondering why the word is suddenly popping up so often every time they visit a website from 26 May onwards.

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