Is contextual advertising a backup for a world without cookies?

In this ever-evolving advertising landscape, contextual is how agencies stay prepared for the deprecation of third-party cookies while adjusting to the privacy-first era

According to a recent report by IAB MENA, 65 per cent of senior advertising professionals in the MENA region feel unprepared to operate without third-party cookies.

These numbers are alarming, as digital advertisers must prepare themselves to successfully navigate the transition. To address this impending shift, contextual targeting emerges as one of the primary alternatives.

In January, Google deprecated third-party cookies for 1 per cent of its Chrome users worldwide. Once completed, over 80 per cent of the world’s browsers will no longer support these cookies (Arena).

As brands reach out to agency partners to prepare for life without cookies, agencies find themselves with a pivotal opportunity to prove their strategic value and deepen relationships with clients. An increasing share of these deliberations revolves around contextual targeting, which regrettably is sometimes misconstrued as a Plan B.

This is a flawed viewpoint, as contextual advertising should not be considered a fallback option due to the diminishing of cookies.

It stands as a potent tool capable of shaping nuanced and intricate target audience frameworks by concentrating on prospective customers’ passions, ethics, and values and synchronising these elements with a brand’s core principles. Contextual can genuinely uplift an audience strategy.

Agencies can benefit greatly from embracing contextual targeting now, rather than waiting for cookies to be fully deprecated. Here’s why.

AI unlocks true power of contextual

The first reason is the most important: contextual has made huge technological leaps that many are still unaware of.

When many agencies think of contextual, they think of it in outdated terms. For a long time, contextual was a glorified way of describing targeting genres of pubs or keywords. Things have come a long way since then.

With advancements in AI and machine learning, it’s now possible to go well beyond keywords and themes to understand the nuanced meanings and sentiments of entire pages in their full semantic context.

Whereas old-school contextual targeting might view something as “an article that mentions dogs in a lifestyle publication,” today’s contextual technology can understand it as “an article providing advice for new dog owners about the most ethical ways to train difficult breeds.”

This enhanced view uncovers several actionable insights about the readers of that page and their mindsets (new owners, focus on ethics, etc), which in turn open up other avenues for contextual targets (home security, animal welfare, ethical brands, etc).

Advantages of contextual advertising

Armed with these enhanced capabilities, contextual targeting offers agencies major advantages, particularly when compared to using off-the-shelf audience segments.

Understanding Nuanced Audiences:  Agencies are realising that interests move faster than audience segments, and contextual targeting is the best way to stay apace with them. Contextual advertising unlocks the ability to go beyond standard demographics to delve deeper into variable reactions and perspectives on current topics.

It allows brands to resonate with emerging trends and subjects like “sustainability” even before a standardised audience taxonomy becomes commonplace and available for those themes.

Finding Audiences In Unexpected Places: Contextual helps spot new inventory opportunities that traditional audience targeting overlooks. Many of these opportunities are lower cost and more efficient, and thereby improve the overall economics of campaigns. Contextual helps agencies identify brand-compatible content across a wider and more diversified range of publications, broadening reach while reducing acquisition costs.

Freedom from Compliance Risk: With new privacy regulations and standards, handling audience data (particularly PII) comes with additional risk and complexity. Contextual targeting is free of such burdens.

While all agencies will encourage brands to use some form of first party data, contextual extends the value of what a brand already has without having to incur the cost and complexity of securely matching with other sets of PII.

Be proactive, not reactive

Contextual advertising should not be a Plan-B born out of fear of what will happen without cookies.

The shift toward contextual also helps agencies better align with the deeper shift underway in the industry, away from intrusive methods and toward those that are based on relevance and respect.

It calls for a transformative approach, where the emphasis shifts from merely grabbing the audience’s data and attention to creating a deep-rooted impression, grounded in the contextual reality of the moment.

-By Sherry Mansour, Managing Director at Seedtag MENA