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  • Harry Brownbill


Updated: May 24, 2022

With growing concerns around privacy and data protection, many publishers are deciding to phase out the use of third party cookies.

Google announced their plan to phase out third party cookies by 2022. To put that into perspective, that means the web browser (Chrome) – of which 60% of all internet users use – won’t be enabled for third party targeting. Essentially, making 60% of all internet users unreachable.

Another major player, Apple, has also announced big changes to in-app tracking, which requires developers to ask for permission to track IOS users for ad delivery.

These changes have real impacts across the digital marketing industry, with consumers, brands and publishers all being affected. If Google’s privacy tools and Apple’s phasing out work as well as many fear they will, it will mean a complete change to the programmatic industry as we know it with audience targeting and DMPs possibly even becoming redundant. The industry will have to find a way to cope with this major change which many have long forecasted.

Since the invention of the cookie way back in 1994, third party cookies have been the beaming light for brands, and publishers alike, allowing them to track a desired audience search or browsing behaviour, which would allow them to connect with the exact people they wanted to connect with anywhere online. It was an efficient method for brands as there was limited wastage and played a major part in a business’s marketing strategy to generate short term sales. It is essentially, the 40% of Les Binet’s all famous: "The Long and The Short Of It".

With third party cookies crumbling (pun intended), many publishers and brands have a real task in filling the gaps. The logical step for brands and publishers is to develop more robust first party data. However, this can come at big costs to advertisers.

The other way to look at it is to find ways of targeting that are arguably just as effective that don’t require the use of third party cookies. I’m talking about Contextual Targeting.

Now, I am not going to claim this is a new thing. The reality is it has been an effective tactic for brands to nudge possible buyers through their interests or relevant content they’re reading for years. What’s different now is that there are significant developments in technology going into contextual targeting as well as research that supports it.

Why it’s powerful is that contextual targeting takes keywords and content of the webpage into consideration to display ads instead of the user’s behaviour. The ads are placed on web pages depending on the content of those pages, rather than data about the consumer’s online behaviour. Therefore, the user is targeted based on the content they are reading or viewing, not on their search behaviour before coming to the site.


AI technology is now being used to ensure that not only keywords on a page are used in the targeting but the context of what is written on the page is also considered. AI technology can scan pictures, URLs and the sentiment of the article. It allows for much better understanding of the content and allows brands and publishers to tap into the actual meaning of the content rather than just the words.

This AI technology is feeding into more sophisticated and innovative knowledge graphs or semantic networks giving brands and publishers even richer data on what a consumer is reading and why allowing for deeper classification and understanding of the content.

This deeper understanding on the context in which people are reading content online will allow for more authentic and less disruptive advertising. Ultimately, brands and publishers will be able to tailor messaging/advertising to be more relevant than ever before. The effect of which can be very positive with higher clicks and higher conversions.


Addressing the context in which a message appears increases the impact of that message, as advertising placed in the right context impacts consumers noticeably more than a generic placement. This has been shown to have real effects on the brain.

Source: Google/ Shopper Sciences, Zero Moment of Truth Industry Studies

One such study conducted by Google showed there was a significant uplift in the change in brain signals when users were exposed to contextual advertising. There were significant uplifts across memory encoding, salience, and recall. All key metrics when looking at the effectiveness of ads.


To truly get the best out of contextual targeting, the message must be seamlessly integrated into the context in which the ad is placed. Imagine if you will for a moment:

You are a finance brand wanting to drive brand desirability among millennials. You’ve found that millennials are more likely to consume content about travel and experiences because, well, who doesn’t like to travel when they’re young?

You have a great idea to use contextual targeting with ad placements positioned around ‘’saving for holidays” content. The ad or message is more likely to resonate with the reader/viewer if the actual messaging itself is relatable directly to the content. There is greater opportunity for brands to start realising the potential of having actual messaging that’s relatable to the content rather than just putting a generic ad in front of the reader.

As a media agency, it’s our job to ensure we can connect the dots with relevant messaging built for the ad placement or environment when recommending contextual placements. It requires deeper collaboration with creative partners to ensure this is achieved.

I have no doubt third party cookies will be missed. However, personally, I’m excited to see the evolution and growth in contextual targeting.

I believe it will allow for more creative freedom, more relevant and less disruptive advertising. And will put greater emphasis on media and creative teams to work more collaboratively to deliver greater outcomes for clients.

I will leave you with one of my favourite examples of contextual out of home placements.


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