Why context will power the future of digital ads, even if cookies remain

context 2 - Image by 0fjd125gk87 from Pixabay

Despite delays in the great unwinding of adland’s reliance on third party cookies, an ID-free future is coming and context will come to the fore as an entire industry rethinks its digital advertising strategy.

Moreover, Google’s latest delay over its move away from cookies shouldn’t be read by agencies and brands as a sign to stick with existing programmes, but rather an opportunity to develop a thoroughbred contextual targeting edge. 

So says Heather Lloyd, Head of Product Marketing at Nano Interactive, which uses artificial intelligence to find hyper targeted online audiences to help brands optimise the outcomes of their ad campaigns…

heather lloyd nano
Heather Lloyd, Head of Product Marketing, Nano Interactive.

The recent announcement that Google would be, once again, delaying the deprecation of third-party cookies on its Chrome browser until at least mid-2024 won’t have come as a surprise to most. 

This news, however, shouldn’t deter the industry from continuing the good work it’s doing when it comes to learning about and testing cookieless solutions.

The savviest advertisers know that the privacy-focused future is a guarantee – whether through a hefty reduction in the third-party data available, or through more legislation. 

This isn’t the time to be taking your foot off the pedal. It’s time to ignore the delay, and progress with exploring – and embracing – privacy-friendly solutions. 

Diversifying beyond third-party data

We, as an industry, mustn’t forget what brought us to this point in the first place. An overreliance on third-party data, and the ability to track and target users across the web, has led to low consumer trust, a myriad of regulations around the world, the rise of ad blocking, and ‘banner blindness’. 

As a result, the shift to a focus on privacy is inevitable, even if Google Chrome’s cookies are never actually turned off. 

We’ve already been given an insight into what the deprecation of Chrome’s third-party cookies will mean, with a general shift away from tracking and toward opt-in consent systems already occurring. 

GDPR, Apple’s changes to IDFAs and introduction of App Tracking Transparency (ATT), and the removal of third-party cookies on browsers including Safari and Firefox are just a few examples of the movement we’re already seeing. 

context in id free ads
From films and gaming, to travel, retail and beyond, context will matter.

That’s why smart media buyers are diversifying their approach to focus more on contextual strategies, first-party data, and other cookieless identity solutions. 

A combination of these strategies is going to shape the future of digital advertising, but contextual will have the strongest staying power with a key advantage being its vast scalability. 

As a core part of digital advertising, contextual provides the scale that other cookieless solutions may not be able to achieve.  

At the heart of the reliance on third-party data is the desire to reach audiences in the ‘right place, at the right time’. 

However, the irony of it all is that the targeting could be based on audience signals that were up to 30 days old so, often, consumers are targeted with advertising for products or services that they had already purchased, or were no longer interested in.

At its most basic, contextual counteracts this lag by presenting audiences with advertising that is tied to what they are actually consuming at that given time. 

But employing contextual targeting has become a lot more advanced than just placing an ad for clothing on a fashion site.

The power of context

AI driven contextual targeting can be delivered based on more than just what content is being consumed, or the underlying meaning of that content. 

Consumers can also be targeted contextually based on factors such as sentiment.

Context in ai - Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay
Feeling you: AI can determine sentiment, mood and appropriateness when targeting audiences.

How do consumers respond to ads placed alongside content of a certain tone? Does your ad actually perform better alongside negative or positive content?

Understanding that sentiment enables you to optimise campaigns mid-flight based on how audiences are responding to content being served, and ensure that ads are being placed in environments that are suitable for your brand and message.

Being able to exclude content based on sentiment also prevents you from excluding entire categories, which can have a big impact on reach.

For example, particularly in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, brands were reluctant to see their ads placed alongside content relating to the coronavirus, although not all of the content would’ve actually been negative.

Sentiment can also be taken a step further and used to understand the emotion within contextual environments.

Contextual targeting is highly effective when powered through AI and machine learning-based tech. Once marketers can understand the content that users are searching for and consuming online, they can begin to get closer to understanding the user mindset better.

context - Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Targeting you: AI-based solutions will use context to hyper target audiences for advertisers.

Analysing mindset shifts allows marketers to see how users’ sentiment changes in relation to what they’re searching for and consuming online.

Are users seeking out more information about electric cars than before? Are users exploring environmentally friendly options for beauty products? 

With these insights, brands make informed decisions based on trends in user behaviour, and shifts in consumer perspectives – in this instance, the shift towards more environmentally friendly retail. 

Going a level deeper, and tracking emotion within content offers marketers an even  deeper understanding of their user by looking at how the emotion behind content searched for and consumed changes over time.

A reliance on third-party data isn’t always viable as it’s so focused on inferring interest or intent based on data that can be up to a month old. 

Despite this, cookies and other third-party data sources gave advertisers confidence they were reaching the right person, at the right time. 

In reality, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the quality of user engagement can actually be far more meaningful through advanced contextual targeting as it enables advertisers to marry their message with an understanding of the deeper meaning  of the environment.

Industry changes are forcing those beliefs to be altered and, as a result, there is growing recognition that a combination of context, user intent signals and an understanding of sentiment and emotion is key to the future success of digital advertising.

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