Contextual Targeting for a Cookieless World

Authored article by Saurabh Khattar IAS’ India Lead for Strategic Partnerships

Introducing cookies and collecting first-party data transformed the digital advertising industry in more ways than one. Finding the right customer became more accessible than ever with highly targeted ads. However, growing concerns around privacy and antitrust issues meant the introduction of new guidelines from time to time, stringent measures to ensure data protection, and tech giants phasing out the use of third-party cookies. 

Starting in 2024, Google will block third-party cookies on Chrome with the technology available by the end of 2022 for developers to adopt. Although Firefox and Safari have already phased out the usage of third-party cookies, Google Chrome’s dominance in the browser industry means we will start seeing new impact-making strategies from marketers soon.

Marketers should embrace this new challenge geared toward protecting the customer's privacy and use it as an opportunity to create a cookie-less framework for ad targeting. This will provide an opportunity to renew marketing creativity by using first-party data to make meaningful engagements with consumers. Contextual technology’s ability to find discerning and relevant placements for ads in a scalable manner results in contextual targeting quickly becoming a go-to strategy for marketers. 

In the current macroeconomic situation, driving ROI and efficiencies remain paramount for marketers, let’s deep dive and look at how contextual targeting can help marketers:



  • Revisiting brand suitability to match sentiments and emotions


Brand-suitable placements are essential when reaching the right audience through contextual targeting tools. Brand suitability focuses on matching a brand’s values to the context of content that might surround its ads. Essentially, brands sell to people and people - more often than not - respond based on emotions, making purchases based on how they feel and perceive the brand or its product.

Brand suitability settings allow marketers to protect their brands from appearing next to unsafe content, offering more control over the contextual placement of ads. Brand suitability improves consumer perception and studies suggest customers are more receptive to brands where ad messaging best suits the surrounding content. 

To drive home the message of the ad, marketers need to pair their ads with the right sentiment and emotions next to brand-suitable content. A prime example is avoiding the placement of a car ad on a news report about a car crash. Such ad placement is unsuitable for a car manufacturer.



  • Enhancing brand reputation by aligning with contextually relevant content 


Natural language Processing (NLP) technology offers full-page contextual analysis in real-time. IAS recently released a study ‘Ad Context & Attention’ conducted in partnership with Tobii, the global leader in eye tracking and a pioneer in attention computing. The study revealed how increased consumer attention for contextually relevant ads leads to greater purchase intent and brand favorability. Contextual relevance was effective in generating a positive impact on brand engagement, favorability, and memorability. Key findings from the study are mentioned below:

  1. Contextual targeting strategies yield stronger consumer attention - The in-context ad was the first-page element consumers noticed. It took just 0.4s for consumers to notice the in-context ad vs. 1.0s to notice the out-of-context ad when viewing the article. 
  2. Contextually relevant ads drive outcomes, significantly boosting brand favorability and consumer purchase intent — Purchase intent was higher among consumers who viewed the in-context ad, increasing by 14%. Additionally, the In-context ad generated higher brand favorability among participants, resulting in a 5% increase when compared with consumers viewing the out-of-context ad. 
  3. In-context ads generate higher memorability and increase brand recall and awareness among consumers — Consumers were four times more likely to remember a brand, unaided, after seeing an in-context ad versus an out-of-context ad. In general, in-context display ads were more likely to be considered interesting, easy to read, clear and informative.


  • Reaching the customer in a privacy-compliant manner 


Contextual Targeting can be leveraged as a new proxy for audience targeting, a solution that can be customized and scaled to reach consumers in the right mindset in a privacy-friendly manner. As our industry prepares for a cookieless future and increasingly moves away from audience targeting, advertisers have a significant opportunity to be intentional with contextual tools. Rather than focus on data management and privacy regulations that accompany collecting audience data, many marketers will switch to advertising in contextually relevant environments and use that as a proxy. Ultimately, a shift to contextual advertising is also good news for the industry because it aligns with the preferences of privacy-conscious consumers while achieving the brand’s goals for engagement. 

Contextual targeting is growing as the advertising world navigates major changes. The intent has clearly shifted from mass reach to reach the right audience at the right time and in the right environments. And that is contextual advertising for you.

Therefore, as a marketer, if you find yourself asking whether targeted and relevant ads will cease to exist without the use of third-party cookies? The answer is NO! In fact, it will evolve with technology-driven solutions that protect the privacy of users and guarantee a better ad-based experience.


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