Cookies Are Like Barcodes

In the ever-increasing dialogue surrounding cookies and consumer habits or attitudes towards them, many individuals have declared their end is near. Granted, most of these are self-serving proclamations designed to grab headlines and introduce new products, but I would argue, along with my other levelheaded compatriots, that the sky is not falling. Cookies are not dead, they are only evolving.

To illustrate my point, I would like to draw a simple analogy. Cookies are being demonized in much the same way that barcodes once were, and - just like barcodes - they will find a more natural harmony with consumers once their value proposition is clearly communicated.

Barcodes were originally introduced to improve inventory management, helping merchants understand when and how much of a product to order so that their shelves were full, but not overstocked. Better inventory management translated into lower costs for merchants, and some of this efficiency was passed on to consumers in the form of lower prices. But once consumers became aware that barcodes could also be used to track which products they were buying, a storm of uniquely American protest erupted in the form of t-shirts, tattoos, and even a number of shaved heads decrying barcodes and their dehumanizing, invasion of privacy.



But an important thing happened on the way to the death of the barcode, merchants and manufacturers found a way to make barcodes useful to consumers. Instead of a one-way value proposition, merchants used barcodes to provide consumers with relevant coupons and purchase-related savings opportunities. Barcode technology is now advancing to the point where consumers can scan them into mobile phones or PDAs to perform price comparisons, learn additional information about products, or even determine if it fits into their diet guidelines.

Barcodes are no longer about an invasion of privacy, but rather a tool to save money for consumers and give them more information about products. But it's important to note that barcodes or the technology to scan them did not change, only their consumer side application.

I believe the same can be said of cookies. Instead of escalating the arms race with consumers by introducing flash-based tracking methods, marketers will come to understand that by providing consumer-facing benefits to cookies they can improve their longevity and ultimately their acceptance. The fact of the matter is that cookies are here to stay; we simply need to find a way to make them more understood and useful than they already are.

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