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Oracle’s take on contextual targeting in the new “cookie-less” era of adtech

By Marc Grabowski, group vice president, sales, Oracle Advertising

It’s the beginning of a new year, a time for business leaders to recount last year’s successes (and maybe some failures too) and set new goals for the year ahead. Oftentimes, we kick off a new year with big, ambitious goals – we’re recharged so we start off strong, but over time, we lose steam. Why? Focusing on a goal in its entirety is overwhelming and it can often feel impossible to achieve. But, breaking a goal down into actionable steps is both manageable and achievable, and can keep you more motivated throughout the year. 

A goal that’s top of mind for me this year – as well as many of my colleagues in the advertising industry – is helping our clients and partners successfully prepare for our soon-to-be “new normal.” For the past two years, the advertising industry has been planning for a major industry-changing event: the end of third-party cookies, a technology that advertisers, media, and adtech companies have relied on for more than two decades to deliver targeted advertising across the internet.

In January 2020, Google announced its intent to phase out support of third-party cookies in their Chrome browser “within two years.” Shortly after, Apple launched several privacy-focused features that have limited advertising targeting and data collection. This included blocking third-party cookies by default in the Safari browser for iOS, iPadOS and macOS; AppTrackingTransparency; and most recently, Mail Privacy Protection

The updates kicked off a frenzy of activity across the ecosystem of adtech companies, publishers, and industry organizations to find consumer-centric solutions to preserve advertisers’ ability to reach their desired target audience platforms and devices with relevancy and at scale. 

While Google has since delayed its phase-out of third-party cookies until 2023, the fact is, it will happen and when it does marketers need to be prepared with alternative solutions. One thing we can count on: contextual targeting will play an integral role in this new advertising and marketing mix.

The role of contextual targeting in data-driven advertising and marketing

Contextual targeting has taken center stage as marketers reassess their media strategies in the new era of adtech with cookie deprecation, privacy expectations, and increased media channels. As the clock continues to tick on the advertising industry’s third-party cookie timeline, context will be a critical part of marketers’ ongoing holistic targeting strategy. In fact, according to recent research from Winterberry Group, more than half of marketers surveyed plan to increase their investment in contextual targeting during the next 24 months.

Contextual targeting helps marketers find their intended audiences and users with similar profiles based on the brand-relevant context they’re viewing. For example, a large outdoor retailer looking to sell camping equipment can use contextual targeting to find consumers watching a video or reading an article about hearty recipes for the outdoors, how to pack for a lengthy hike across the Pacific Crest Trail, or popular family RV parks and campgrounds.

What’s unique about contextual targeting is that it offers a consumer-centric approach, allowing marketers to target the content of the page or video without any need for third-party cookies or personal identifiers. Incorporating contextual targeting into your marketing and advertising mix not only offers a privacy-safe approach, but it also enables marketers to reach relevant consumers in the right mind-set through the content they engage in, in real time.

Oracle Advertising technology helps marketers make every interaction matter by connecting data and empowering businesses to deliver exceptional customer experiences, from acquisition to retention, and everything in between. Within this product suite, our Oracle Contextual Intelligence technology helps reach and engage customers and prospects across digital channels and do so in the right environment for a brand with category-leading targeting, brand safety and suitability solutions. 

While no one, single solution can meet the industry’s unique needs to reach consumers, a portfolio approach that includes contextual targeting gives marketers new ways to reach the people they care about, and in a privacy-safe way. If you haven’t started preparing for the “cookie-less” future ahead, start today. 

Reassessing your advertising and marketing mix

If preparing for the “cookie-less” future ahead is one of your goals this year – remember, nobody is immune from the desire to accomplish big things, but yet similarly, nobody is impervious to the weight of those commitments. Focusing on the impending industry change in its entirety can feel overwhelming, impossible; break your goals down into small, clear actionable steps and you’ll set yourself up for better success: 

  • Test & learn: You don’t need to do it all at once. Pick one upcoming advertising campaign this quarter and implement test and learn strategies to see what works best for your brand. Test contextual targeting strategies alongside cookie-based strategies, test with new contextual strategies like sentiment targeting, test with different vendors that offer both standard and more advanced contextual solutions, and test using first-party data. 
  • Evaluate & invest: Now that you’ve tested a couple different contextual targeting strategies, evaluate the results and see how they match up against your top-performing strategies today. As you re-evaluate your approach to media investments moving forward, consider managing them like you would an investment portfolio.
  • Optimize & persist: Apply your learnings by carving out a percentage of your budget to further optimize and expand into more campaigns, objectives and targeting strategies. Calibrate your risk tolerance, measure, and attribute accordingly to move you closer to a more balanced and privacy-safe portfolio strategy.

Ready or not…

Google’s delay in the deprecation of third-party cookies may have given the advertising industry a brief sigh of relief and more time to prepare – but the smart players won’t take this as a signal to relax and slow down. We all need to keep up the pace together to meet business needs while addressing consumer demand for more data privacy, transparency and control. Marketers should be building out a portfolio of solutions to acquire and grow customer relationships, and make smart media investments that will persist into the future, well past 2023.

Want to learn more about contextual targeting? Industry tech titans share three key steps to level up your targeting strategy in 2022.

Download Winterberry Group’s full report, “The Outlook for Contextual Solutions in Data-Driven Advertising and Marketing.”