The Cookie Stuffing Controversy

Cookie-Slash-A3

After some controversy surrounding Convertro's white paper on cookie stuffing, I decided to add a different perspective to the term, which carries a ton of baggage. The original list, updated several times before the company settled on a final 10, offers insights into attribution. Some industry folks seemed concerned that the point of view attempted to tie the original meaning of the controversial topic to a new definition by coining it 2.0.

Cookie stuffing -- originally defined as inserting cookies in the browser without user consent to add tracking codes -- might seem a bit different from consenting consumers looking to give a little information to save money, which mostly defines Convertro's updated 2.0 definition.

The paper goes on the basic premise that merchants might pay for traffic contrary to their interests, meaning the merchant paid for something they might otherwise get for free. Since Convertro focuses on attribution technique, it is understandable why it wants to alert marketers that they should become more aware of how budgets are spent to increase cost savings from clicks.

Consumers make choices. They can choose to search online on Google, Bing or Yahoo for a phone number that serves up in organic listings, which costs nothing -- or call 411 and get charged a fee.

Providing examples in a May post, Ben Edelman, Harvard Business School, describes cookie stuffing as affiliates that "deposit cookies invisibly and unrequested -- knowing that a portion of users will make purchases from large merchants in the subsequent days and weeks. This tactic is particularly effective in defrauding large merchants: the more popular a merchant becomes, the more users will happen to buy from that merchant within a given referral period."

At We-care.com, cause marketing donations are made to a chosen cause on behalf of the consumer. The technology inserts the affiliate cookie at the user's request, according to Kevin Lee, the site's co-founder. Lee also founded Didit, a search engine marketing (SEM) agency.

We-care.com drops a cookie for future marketing efforts, but how many sites don't these days? The site retargets visitors, investing the money to bring users back to We-Care.com using its cookies. The merchant and the cause benefit -- as does the customer, who gets the happy feeling of supporting their cause, Lee said.

"As an affiliate, we don't charge merchants anything for our marketing -- whether banner advertising, search or SEO, social or other media," he said. "We and the causes get compensated for sales influenced."

Does money from additional sales go to the cause if someone clicks directly from a search engine or another display ad to make the purchase if the We-care.com cookie remains in the browser? Lee said compensation for lagged conversions from direct navigation depends on the specific affiliate program cookies, such as CJ, Linkshare, Google, and others.

Do a search on a favorite engine at We-care.com -- and the site tries to highlight participating merchant organic links, which often saves retailers from paying for a paid-search click, Lee said. Not only does it provide the person searching with information, but it attempts to reduce investments in marketing campaigns, he said. It allows the consumer to donate a portion of the price to a cause. The site also runs contextual and social media initiatives powered by the technology.

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2 comments about "The Cookie Stuffing Controversy".
  1. Jeff Williams from SHHH... , June 7, 2012 at 2:41 p.m.
    I've not investigated we-care yet but hopefully it is user initiated cookie setting and not just another "loyaltyware" scinerio like shopathome, ebates etc.. just wrapping it in a prettier wrapper under the guise of charity does not make it ok. I've been astounded that marketers let them redirect their customers away from their own sites and sites of their distribution partners for a cut without earning it. I've watched many of the big ecommerce sites getting ripped off for years by these folks. Go install thier toolbars and use Fiddler to review your traffic people!
  2. steve j from consultant , June 7, 2012 at 4:52 p.m.
    Good point. The basic question is how many of the users who use we-care are actually making purchasing decisions based on the we-care recommendations? My guess is that most do not, and therefore Convertro is right. We-care is offering them links to products that they would purchase in any case, and therefore as a brand I would view them as trying to steal credit for the sale. In any case, we-care may be a special case if users knowingly opt in, rather than are served with a cookie without their permission.