Last month (on 26th May) the new EU privacy directive came into force, demanding that all websites are to provide information to consumers on the use of cookies in online advertising.  You know the ones?  The small text files from a website that sit on your computer identifying the time, location and details of your browsing on that site.

Currently advertisers use these cookies to find customers, based on previous online behaviour.  Here’s an example: imagine you’re looking for a new sofa, you do your research and you have an idea of what you like, you visit the sofa you have your eye on, the next time you’re on the internet you can see adverts for your sofa.  It’s because the website you visited dropped a cookie on your computer and, and as a result, retargeting technology has identified you and placed an advert on another website that you’re visiting.  Thus providing you with a gentle reminder of the sofa you’ve been looking at so much.

The impact of people choosing not to accept cookies to the online advertising industry is obvious; consumers can’t be targeted, can’t be reminded, and bespoke advertising will become less common.  Some may think this is a good thing, but most people actually prefer to see advertising that’s relevant to their interests rather than random adverts.

This legislation could have a dramatic impact on the online media landscape that we’re used to.  We’ve seen publications like The Times go behind a pay-wall to increase their revenue and protect their content; this could become more common as online publications seek to increase their profits if advertising revenue starts to diminish.  This is all a lot of ‘what if’s’ at the moment as the legislation is still young, but change is upon us and the free internet we see today is evolving.

Those who will be most affected include bloggers, who rely on good quality, insightful content to attract sometimes millions of readers.  Their revenue is generated through advertising on their site, and without behavioural targeting and retargeting this will become more difficult and brands may be less enthusiastic to invest their marketing spend with un-trusted sites.

How will this impact upon the PR industry?  My prediction is that more and more online publications will put up pay walls in order to monetise their content.  It will become harder for enthusiastic individuals to start blogs and turn them into businesses; in other words, the internet is becoming more commercial.

Good and relevant content will become gold-dust for online publications’ survival on the web in order to entice and maintain a steady stream of paying readers.  Websites will also have to think of innovative ways to entice advertisers and ensure they attract the right audience for the right adverts to become viable commercial entities.  PR practitioners will need to develop a more tailored approach, as websites will look for increasingly more exclusive content to stand apart from the competition.

What is certain is that our online media landscape is changing. It’s still early days for the EU privacy directive and these predictions may never come to light, users may not care about cookies or might be happy to disclose their browsing information to ensure the content they’re used to remains free.  This is a case of ‘only time will tell’, but the PR industry needs to keep a close eye on the developments and consequences this law could, and possibly already is, having.

By Sophie Mackenzie, ValueClick


Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

Get in touch

Sign up to Spark, our newsletter

Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk

You can unsubscribe at any time, please read our privacy policy for more information