Last week, Google announced its plan to introduce a multi-year privacy protection initiative for its Android operating system, just the latest domino to fall in what has been called the “cookiepocalypse” in digital advertising circles.

This along with Google’s intention to fully phaseout web cookies on its Chrome browser by late 2023, follow moves made by competitors Apple and Mozilla to protect users’ data.

As more competitors react to consumers’ increased desire to have less information about them tracked by companies, digital advertising experts and promotional products insiders see increased opportunities for physical items to further cement their place in company’s overall marketing plans.

That doesn’t mean digital advertising via social media and other means is going away, of course.

“It has to be part of a mix,” says Michael Schaffer, CEO of digital advertising agency Echo Factory. “You can’t only do digital. It’s where everybody is focused because there is so much opportunity and so many ways to do things… but there are a lot more traditional approaches, and promotional products are one way. I think we’re going to see an insurgence of how we get physical products in front of people in a more traditional way.”

The shift away from cookie collection has been brewing for a while. Because of the personal information that cookies collect and share with third-party vendors, they expose users to the possibility of having their data bought, sold and otherwise used without their knowledge.

Cookies Explained

Also known as HTTP cookies, these pieces of data are small text files that save bits of information to the internet browser being used, helping websites to remember the user by exchanging information between the server and the browser.

In their most basic form, cookies are used to remember users’ login information, record their visits to the same website over time, store their preferences and remember the items in their cart.

A certain type, tracking cookies, allow third parties to collect specific information about the user, such as their age, gender, location, interests and online behaviors, and then use this information to serve them targeted advertisements.

Cookies In Action

Because of the information that tracking cookies provide to third parties, they allow brands to serve users with advertisements that are based on their interests and specific wants and needs, improving the overall user experience.

For example, if a user begins searching for content about motherhood and baby products, tracking cookies would store this information, relay it to the servers the browser is communicating with, and translate this into advertisements for products like bottles, blankets, diapers and baby clothes.

Without cookies, companies have to seek alternative ways to serve targeted customers, such as email sign-ups, loyalty or incentive programs, or requesting users to create accounts to access free content.

Alternatives For Companies

Apple’s Safari browser and Mozilla’s Firefox stopped using third-party cookies, and companies have long been using alternatives. In addition to acquiring data through efforts like email sign-ups, loyalty and incentives programs, interactive user experiences and requiring sign-ups, another strategy is contextual targeting, which enables marketers to display advertisements only on relevant websites.

And yet any decrease in the overall abundance of data on web users creates openings for other forms of advertising, from promotional products, to billboards, television and radio, print and more.

“Marketers will be driven to increase spend on other advertising mediums and develop new strategies,” says PPAI Director of Digital Transformation Edwin Gonzalez.“For the promotional productsindustry, this enhances the message that promotional products are essential to every brand.”

Tammy Parker, principal analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, says,“The writing is on the wall for the targeted advertising industry, as privacy advocates’ concerns are finally being heard and acted upon through a mix of regulation and the industry’s own nascent efforts.”

What no one will say, of course, is that digital advertising is set to go on the decline. Rather, the recent direction suggests that marketers may be moved to consider all the options on the table.

“People want to know what to do next,” Schaffer says. “Take a step back and figure out what you’re trying to do: Are you trying to sell some more widgits, get some stronger brand affinity—what are the goals? And then take the same marketing approach you’ve always taken and decide what’s the best way to do this.

“Think: What is good for the consumer? If you can be a strong brand for the consumer, you will have success in marketing your products. Advertisement shouldn’t be about tricking people, and the assumption is with the amount of tracking we’re doing, it allows people to trick consumers.