Cookieless Age? More Like the Contextual Renaissance

By Nick Reid, Managing Director EMEA, DoubleVerify

As Google progresses with its phaseout of third-party cookies, it is widely argued that the ‘cookieless era’ is now underway. However, the fact that other browsers have long operated without third-party identifiers and many advertisers have already shifted to post-cookie solutions suggests that the cookieless age has been upon us for some time.

Despite this, a significant number of brands and agencies have yet to embrace this industry shift. As the grace period nears its end, advertisers must investigate all avenues to ensure they can continue to reach audiences effectively and at scale, while keeping consumer data safe and secure.

One approach they should not overlook is a tried-and-tested method: contextual advertising.

Having offered quality results since the early days of digital advertising, advertisers should reassess the status of contextual within their current strategies – especially given its newfound capabilities made possible by advanced technologies.

Effective enough to form the main component of an advertiser’s digital arsenal, rather than it being a cookieless age that the industry has entered, a more apt description is a renaissance of context.

A tried-and-tested method

In the early days of digital advertising, contextual was the primary way that ads were served to ‘relevant’ audiences. Websites and apps were grouped into “networks” based on the audiences they were trying to reach (think “mom” or “car enthusiast” networks). The rise of programmatic and cookies in the early 2000s shifted attention away from curated content. The appeal of mass reach and delivering campaigns to consumers at scale, based on their demographics or previous purchasing behaviours, made cookies more popular than contextual advertising for several years.

This approach, however, did not account for the rising importance of consumer privacy, which has been one of the driving forces behind cookie deprecation. With audience-based tracking like this no longer possible, it’s an opportunity for advertisers to not only go back to the drawing board, but come back bolder and better.

The rebirth of contextual

Contextual advertising focuses on relevant content to serve ads, rather than relying on personally identifiable information (PII) as third-party cookies do. Advertisers can display ads on sites and apps based only on the surrounding content. At its most basic level, it can be as simple as campaigns that advertise running shoes appearing next to content about marathons.

Contextual can be a great way to engage with consumers at every stage of the marketing funnel. At the top of the funnel, it can be an entry point for consumers to familiarise themselves with new brands that fit their needs. Meanwhile, at the bottom end, it can boost purchase intent. Because consumers are seeing ads that align with the content they have shown an active interest in, they are far more likely to complete a purchase.

While it was always an effective means of driving outcomes, contextual advertising has evolved and is now far more intuitive and effective than ever before. With sophisticated, artificial intelligence (AI) based technologies, such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), enabling a deeper understanding of the content through semantic analysis.

Tools that leverage machine learning to classify and analyse millions of apps and websites can enable advertisers to build a detailed profile of any content, providing a true understanding of it. This helps marketers maximise relevance through an in-depth analysis of the content that users are looking at.

The emergence of sophisticated, AI-powered solutions is the driving force behind the contextual renaissance. It offers a lifeline to advertisers, enabling them to analyse all content types maximising brand equity protection and contextual performance. Aligning ads with pertinent content is the key to reaching the right users in the right places at the right time. Modern contextual solutions make campaigns compliant and relevant, while achieving the desired impact that brands are seeking.

Contextual segments have also evolved to allow advertisers to adopt a more nuanced approach that extends beyond brand safety and incorporates brand suitability. This means that advertisers can focus on both the brand suitable protections, and can be contextually aligned with content that is core to the values of both their brand and the audiences they are looking to engage with. Indeed, shifting from broad protective measures to a more sophisticated and aligned strategy, that considers the specific context of an ad, marks a significant step for the ecosystem towards improved relevance, performance, and business outcomes.

It’s imperative for advertisers still looking for a post-cookie solution in 2024 to proactively adapt their strategies to feature contextual more centrally.