Why context is key in the post-cookie world

Smart brands are taking contextual targeting seriously

Caroline Hugonenc, Teads

Global VP Research & Insights


Data privacy has been the talk of the town for a number of years now. Both within the industry and out in the wider world, people are becoming more informed and aware about the impact of data use. We’ve seen regulations, software updates, and even documentaries all focused on privacy, truly making this an international talking point.

By the end of 2023, Google will follow in the footsteps of Firefox and Safari and end the use of third-party cookies on its Google Chrome browser. Recently, Apple also announced it would increase its privacy push by putting more privacy protection around email and IP addresses.

It may seem that all the changes are going to result in the digital advertising industry struggling to continue to effectively reach consumers but it’s important to remember that, though the industry long put a lot of stock into cookies, the ecosystem isn’t dependent on them.

Going cookieless is a positive step for the industry and means the focus can be placed on creating responsible and sustainable advertising with non-intrusive personalisation at the heart of it. But how do you approach non-intrusive personalisation? One answer to that is contextual advertising.

For context

Contextual advertising enables brands to reach the consumer when they are in a certain mindset. Ads that are contextually aligned make sense. Contextual lines up more with consumer values and interests than other forms of advertising.

If someone is reading an article about travel, it makes far more sense for an airline to advertise to them than a chocolate brand, for instance. So, aligning ads with that in mind can amplify the message and create real uplift and impact for a brand’s campaign.

Contextual isn’t free from challenges, however. These challenges are particularly around accuracy, granularity, placement, and actionability. Many contextual solutions rely heavily on keywords, but this reliance can lead to false-positives and questionable accuracy. Contextual targeting can mean that your marketing message isn’t amplified and that you miss out on engagement with the right audience. Most of contextual today is placed across user-generated content, rather than next to professional content, so accuracy and standardisation can be brought into question. And there’s the fact that not all platforms will be able to move toward actionable insights and go beyond just outlining the benefits and implementing an overall use case.

All of these challenges can be addressed by finding and testing partners across all four, though. The partners who are processing large volumes of content, over a long period of time, are the ones who will truly understand content consumption.

Measuring effectiveness

To prove the effectiveness of contextual, we have been conducting AB testing using our proprietary campaign measurement tool, Brand Pulse. Brand Pulse compares answers from up to three questions served within our inventory on a control versus exposed basis.

In the case of contextual, we run two Brand Pulse tests – one with contextual and one without – then compare the difference in brand lift. We have found, based on data from eight different campaigns from across verticals and regions, that – in terms of brand lift – aided ad recall increased 56% in contextual environments, while ad awareness was up 43%. Message association was also up 43%, consideration by 18%, purchase intent by 7%, and all branding KPIs by 35%.

These findings are supported by a campaign run by Nestlé and its agency UM (Universal McCann) to promote the new Nesquik Intenso range for adults in Spain last year. Two pieces of video content were optimised for mobile environments, highlighting the packaging, the product, and its key features.

Various segmentation strategies were used including socio-demographic data, interest data, and contextual targeting to identify which environments and beside which content the ad should run.

A study on the back of the campaign found that ad recall increased 86% in the group that had socio-demographic data segmentation and 87% in the contextual targeting segment, proving that contextual targeting is at least as effective as the ‘standard’ socio-demographic targeting.

Media buyers are facing the next evolution in digital, as the cookie and several other third-party data points are removed as targeting tools. And an old friend in contextual advertising is one of the key solutions that marketers should be looking at to continue delivering effective advertising. For some, contextual targeting may feel like a dated approach after the industry’s around decade-long focus on third-party cookies, but the technology has come quite some way since bygone eras of digital advertising.

There may be doubts about accuracy, granularity, placement, and actionability when it comes to contextual, but technology now exists to enable the industry to solve these challenges. As such, contextual targeting is a highly viable solution and one well worth consideration – and the research only backs that up.

Guest Author

Caroline Hugonenc, Teads

Global VP Research & Insights


Caroline is in charge of research and insights for Teads, a digital advertising platform that unites the world’s best publishers to provide an end-to-end solution for brands. She began her career in TV and digital audience measurement for Mediamétrie in the French market, before moving to Nielsen Ireland, again working on TV, and then returning to France in 1998, where she worked at Carat and now Teads.

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