The upcoming third-party cookie phase-out pushes advertisers to find alternative means to ensure identification and reach of relevant audiences. Although Google postponed the end of the cookies system to 2023, the transition to a cookieless world will not be a one-off switch. In this context, digital advertisers are bringing back into the fold the long thought outdated contextual targeting approach.
Contextual targeting consists in selecting specific keywords to serve online ads next to editorial content that includes those keywords. However, context is not limited to keywords: it can be either text, image, or video content displayed on a page.
Think clothing brands and sport: a video ad for training shoes placed alongside an article on a sports newspaper website. Thus, contextual targeting allows to drive awareness by targeting niche markets in campaigns that are served programmatically. It also provides advertisers with a flexible targeting methodology. In fact, they can either narrow or widen the contexts targeted in reaching relevant audiences using in-context and out-of-context phrases.
In other words, contextual targeting aims at targeting a customer through a specific moment or mindset to increase receptiveness to the ads shown. Unlike behavioural targeting based on tracking pixels and cookies, contextual targeting displays ads that resonate with the content actually seen by the user.
Consumers reject content they either judge intrusive or irrelevant to their online experience. In fact, they have increasingly been using ad blockers: 43% of internet users worldwide said they used one in 2020. Contextual placements lift the value of advertising, for cookie-based targeting may result in displaying ads on unadapted environments. Indeed, consumers want to be exposed to advertising that matches their interests and in relevant environments.
In a report released on July 2021, IAB Europe asked consumers about their feelings toward contextual advertising:
Thus, marketers are jumping on the wagon as 74% make contextual advertising their priority strategy for the cookieless future.
One other point is that contextual targeting matches with brand safety demands of all the brands. In-context and out-of-context phrases can be used to show products/services of sensitive categories in adapted environments only. As a cookieless solution, contextual targeting has the potential to solve compliance issues surrounding the use of personal data. Through user consent-based targeting, it is not only an ad, but an industry that gains legitimacy in the consumer’s eyes.
Contextual advertising enables consumers and advertisers to work hands-on towards a privacy-safe and relevant advertising experience in two ways:
In the absence of a one-fit-size-all solution, contextual advertising is expected to thrive in the upcoming cookieless advertising. As a matter of fact, estimations are that $412B will be spent on contextual advertising by 2025.
Innovation requires both time and consequent investments, so the market may take years before finding game changing targeting alternatives. In any case, contextual advertising cannot remain the only targeting strategy available for digital marketing campaigns. Contextual Targeting can and most probably will be an important part of future campaigns but should be combined with other approaches still under development (mostly technological developments). As a matter of fact, one should not forget that contextual targeting has been used for many years already by programmatic players.
The key in a performing programmatic approach remains the combination of various approaches and tools in order to permanently adapt to the expectations of the audiences. Let’s keep our eyes open!
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