Rob Frankel - Branding Expert

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Have a Cookie.

If you bounce around the ether as much as I do, you're bound to hear all kinds of debates about techno-this and cyber -that. Knock on any newsgroup's door these days, and if someone isn't vigorously predicting Apple's doom, someone else is vigorously scoffing at its demise. Then there are all those "Mac versus PC" wars. And Netscape versus Internet Explorer. But NOTHING compares to the debate that rages on about -- you guessed it -- cookies.

Now, can anyone tell me what the big deal is about cookies? I mean, what's the real big problem -- and I mean legitimate gripe anyone could possibly have about them? Well, let's take a little stroll down the path of rationality here and see, shall we?

First of all, let's get our terms straight: what, exactly, is a cookie? Without going into too much detail, a cookie is a piece of data that sits on your hard drive, telling any site that's able to retrieve it a little bit about you. Ostensibly, this little critter plays back data that tells various sites what you are and are not interested in seeing. Further, it allows the site to manage your browser past the junk you hate, speeding you on toward the stuff you like.

Hmmm. Faster viewing of the stuff you want, instead of slogging slowly through the stuff you hate. What's wrong with that? Think, for a moment, about your significant other. Isn't it great when you come home from a hard day at the keyboard, to find him/her/it waiting for you with your favorite bath drawn and you favorite meal on the table? Of course. And that's all that cookies are really doing for you.

Not everyone agrees with this scenario, however. You can find newsgroups packed with conspiracy theorists who are absolutely convinced that Bill Gates is out to get them, by eliciting information about them through cookies. The truth is:

1. Bill Gates IS out to get you, but the cookies is not his weapon of choice.

2. Face it -- are any of us really so interesting that someone or something would devote a whole technology just to find out how boring most of us really are? I think not.

3. If you really are that concerned about cookies, every browser I know of allows you to turn them off, or at least set them to alert you before a cookie is given out, in order to cancel the cookie on the spot.

Some conspiracy theorists equate cookie technology with the Evil Spam (unsolicited Commercial E-Mail), that is, a blatant intrusion of privacy. That's kind of dopey, in my opinion. In the first place, there's no option with spam. Once someone knows your e-mail address, you're meat. But more importantly, while spamming is the pushy salesman with his foot in the door, cookies are more like the salesman at the store that remembers your name, or in some cases, your peculiar predilection for cashmere. They're online to serve you at your behest, not theirs.

Now, why would I bring all this up when I'm supposed to be honking on advertising topics? Mainly because cookies are the unsung after-media heroes of a successful advertiser. After all, if you work that hard to get people to your site, why wouldn't you want to make their repeat visits even more enjoyable? The trick to selling online is making the visit to your site an experience that folks will want to repeat, and cookies are one of the best (and cheapest) technologies to help you do that.

So before you accuse the cookie of being some sinister conspiracy plot, think about how much it can do for you. Then turn your conspiracy thoughts to more probable issues. Like why women always go to the bathroom in two's.


Rob Frankel

Copyright 1997, FRANKEL & ANDERSON * Advertising, Marketing & Killer Creative * * Toll-Free in USA & Canada: 1-888-ROBFRANKEL * Telephone: 818-990-8623 * FAX: 413-778-0909 *

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