Why Contextual Targeting Is Critical for Marketers Navigating the Cookie-Less Future

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We’re living in a global paradigm shift, where privacy concerns, coupled with the cookie’s demise, is placing pressure on marketers to deliver more personalised and empathetic campaigns, in brand-safe environments. While this presents many challenges, it also presents many opportunities for marketers to unlock more intelligent contextual targeting tactics.

Preparing for a cookie-less future

The increasingly privacy-savvy consumer is now rejecting the third-party cookie, with a 2018 report revealing 64% of cookies are rejected, either manually or with an ad blocker – and this was prior to new privacy legislation being implemented. On top of this, 46% of phones now reject around 79% of cookies, and cookie-based metrics often overstate reach by 30–70%.

By 2022, Google will phase out the third party cookie, something Firefox and Safari have already achieved. Given Chrome accounts for more than 60% of web browser usage, this is a big deal for marketers and advertisers, particularly those who use programmatic. These browsers will still allow first-party cookies – at least for now – but what’s clear is the cookie can no longer be relied as heavily to inform behavioral targeting.

What is contextual targeting?

Contextual targeting is a way to target relevant audiences using keywords and topics derived from the content around ad inventory, that doesn’t require a cookie or another identifier.

Contextual targeting works in the following way:

  • The content around ad inventory on the webpage, or indeed the entities and themes present within a video, are extracted and passed to a knowledge engine.
  • The engine uses algorithms to evaluate the content based on three pillars, ‘safety, suitability and relevance’ and the context in which it is produced.
  • More advanced solutions can layer in additional real-time data related to the viewers context ‘in the moment’ the ad is viewed and layered, such as if the weather is hot or cold, it’s day or night, or if it’s lunchtime.
  • Further, instead of cookie-based signals, it uses other real-time context based signals, such as how close a person is to a point of interest, are they at home or are they commuting etc
  • If the suitability score exceeds the customer threshold, the Demand Side Platform (DSP) is alerted to continue with the media buy.

Advanced contextual targeting analyses text, audio, video and imagery to create contextual targeting segments which are then matched to particular advertiser requirements, so that advertising appears in a relevant and appropriate environment. So for example, a news article about the Australian Open may show Serena Williams wearing sponsorship partner Nike’s tennis shoes, and then an ad for sports shoes could appear within the relevant environment. In this instance, the environment is relevant to the product.

Good contextual targeting also ensures context is not negatively associated with a product, so for the above example, it would ensure the ad doesn’t appear if the article was negative, fake news, contained political bias or misinformation. For example, the ad for tennis shoes wouldn’t appear if the article is about how bad tennis shoes cause pain.

More effective than using third-party cookies?

Contextual targeting has actually been shown to be more effective than targeting using third-party cookies. In fact, some studies suggest contextual targeting can increase purchase intent by 63%, versus audience or channel level targeting.

The same studies found 73% of consumers feel contextually relevant ads complemented the overall content or video experience. Plus, consumers targeted at the contextual level were 83% more likely to recommend the product in the advertisement, than those targeted at the audience or channel level.

Overall brand favorability was 40% higher for consumers targeted at the contextual level, and consumers served contextual ads reported they would pay more for a brand. Finally, ads with the most contextual relevance elicited 43% more neural engagements.

This is because reaching consumers in the right mindset in the right moment makes ads resonate better, and therefore improves purchase intent far more than an irrelevant ad following consumers around the internet.

This is hardly surprising. Consumers are bombarded with marketing and advertising on a daily basis, receiving thousands of messages daily. This requires them to efficiently filter out irrelevant messaging quickly, so only relevant messaging gets through for further consideration. We can see this consumer annoyance at the bombardment reflected in the increased use of ad blockers. Consumers are, however, receptive to messages that are relevant to their current situation, and contextual targeting increases the likelihood a message is relevant to them in the moment.

Moving forward, contextual targeting will allow marketers to get back to what it is they should be doing – forging a real, authentic and empathetic connection with consumers in the right place and at the right time. As marketing goes ‘back to the future’, contextual targeting will be the smarter and safer way forward to drive better, more meaningful marketing messages at scale.

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