Published on 
November 18, 2021

The contextual advertising revolution

It’s time to bid farewell to cookies and say hello to context. The world of digital advertising is changing fast , and now brands are scrambling to keep up with this contextual revolution. Here’s everything you need to know about how contextual advertising works, why it matters, and how your brand can take advantage of this huge shift in how marketers are reaching their audience.


If you like to see concepts explained in meme-form, this is for you. 


What does cookie-based advertising look like?


Whenever you go to a website—whether it’s Facebook, Google, or The New York Times—your web browser sends information that helps that site decide which ads to show you. Most of us know that your IP address (or internet provider) tells these sites where you are (location), while cookies (small bits of text stored on your computer) tell them what you’ve done on their site before (behaviors). That’s how the websites and ad providers work together to create targeted ads.


Historically, digital ad technology has relied on these cookies. We’re not exactly sure who decided to name them after our favorite baked goods, but on the internet, cookies are the small bits of data that sit on your computer and give sites and advertisers information about who you are and what you do online. 


If a site thinks, for example, that I’m male and over 35 years old it can then show me more ads for things like sports cars or beers than it would if it thought I was female (yes, it’s a crude and sexist way of making assumptions about consumers.). This is called behavioral targeting. The problem with relying only on cookies for ad targeting is that they don’t give you much detail about your context. For example, they don’t know whether I’m looking at an ad in my home office in front of my laptop or if I’m at work looking at a website from my desktop computer after my lunch break. 


Another issue with advertising based on cookies: if you see an ad from a company once, there’s a good chance they’ll show it to you again and again until you either click or leave their site—even if it doesn’t have anything to do with what you searched for or read about previously. This is called retargeting, and can often make you feel like a certain company or product is following you around the internet. Joe Goldberg, is that you? 


Why are cookie-based ads disappearing?


Simply put, consumers have had enough. More and more people are choosing to use ad blockers more often, to shield themselves from becoming a walking target for programmatic ads. With no way to collect information on their digital content consumption habits, it becomes impossible for advertisers to create even sophisticated cookie-based ads. 


Additionally, concerns about data and privacy have reached enough of a critical mass that tech companies are rethinking cookies entirely. Developments like the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), have made third-party cookie tracking much harder, both in Europe and elsewhere. Google Chrome has announced that it will ban all third-party cookies by 2023, and other internet providers are following suit. 


As a result, cookie-based ads may soon become a thing of the past. These developments will profoundly affect the $85 billion advertising industry, the foundations of the digital economy, and have the potential to fundamentally reshape the way our data is collected, shared, and used.

How contextual advertising works.


These trends will force advertisers and publishers to find new ways of targeting audiences and serving ads based on context. Advertisers are reacting to this new reality by shifting to more personalized advertising—meaning they don't need as much information about a person to make an ad relevant to them.


The concept of contextual advertising isn’t new—in fact, it has been around for decades. In its simplest form, contextual advertising is a way for companies to advertise online by taking advantage of relevant content on a given site. In a digital world, digital content is everywhere. With contextual advertising, advertisers can get their message in front of people who are more likely to be interested in what they have to say. In other words, it's not about following people around from site to site anymore; rather it's about synching closely with what they see on a particular web page to maximize results. 


Here’s an example: if you are a brand trying to sell headphones, rather than following users from site to site, you are better off making sure your audience sees your ad when they are watching a video about music and sound quality. 


That’s exactly the strategy that Raycon adopted by sponsoring this video, Building a Drum Set from Scratch (with no experience), on Rob Scallon’s music channel: 


The brand and their products match the topic of the video, meaning that this ad targets consumers at exactly the time that they will be receptive to hearing about this company and what they can offer. A 2020 study from the University of Southern California showed that contextually aligned ads delivered a 93% increase in brand awareness, in comparison to ads with no contextual alignment. That’s a very promising statistic for your brand as you begin to leave cookies behind and embrace these new marketing methods. 


With more laws being passed worldwide and companies like Apple cracking down on their privacy laws, advertisers will soon be forced to stop relying on cookies, and will have to look beyond behavioral targeting to find new ways to get their message in front of the right people at the right time. Contextual advertising offers an opportunity for advertisers to understand and engage with their audiences in a whole new way, one that is more acceptable for consumers and more effective for brands. 

A cookie-less future is inevitable - so we might as well jump on the bandwagon and make the most of it! Developing a game plan for your brand now will ensure you stay on target with your company goals and reach. Influencers should be a central part of that strategy. Get in touch to discuss how to jumpstart your brand’s influencer marketing campaigns and find the right content to wean you off your reliance on cookies for good.

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