Right person, Right message, Right place

September 27, 2022

How contextual intelligence is changing the post-cookie game

With third-party cookies set to be phased out in 2023, the time is now to plan your new digital strategy. Contextual targeting, which places ads next to relevant content, has been used alongside behavioural targeting for years. Contextual intelligence takes this concept further, weaving in customer analytics and segmentation data for deeper insight and stronger outcomes. If your business or marketing team is looking for post-cookie solutions, it’s a powerful place to start.  

Here’s how contextual intelligence can help you change your ad placement strategy for the better.  

What is contextual intelligence?  

Contextual intelligence combines contextual targeting and audience analytics to align your target audience, your ad content and the digital ‘location’ of your advertising. Unlike behavioural targeting, which looks at the wider actions of each browser, contextual placement is about matching the ad to the content, not to the specific person. 

Contextual targeting has been part of the digital landscape for decades. This approach lets marketers place ad content alongside relevant online content – for example, an ad for running shoes next to an article about exercise tips. 

Using audience analytics in tandem with contextual targeting adds another layer of insight to your ad strategy. Smart audience analytics looks at information gathered from various sources – including first-party data from your CRM or sales software – to work out the best way to approach different audience segments. You can personalise targeting and choose the right platforms without needing third-party data.   

Brand safety and avoidance targeting is another element of a contextual approach. Brands can control where their content appears – and where it shouldn’t. Your ads won’t pop up next to negative news stories, competitor items or irrelevant content, avoiding PR issues and unhelpful associations. For example, if your brand values are focused on sustainability and waste reduction, you may not want your ads to appear alongside content about gas-guzzling SUVs.   

The result: instead of an automated, cookie-driven ad solution, you get an approach that gives you more control and meets rules and regulations around customer privacy.  

How does it work?  

Contextual targeting was used before cookies entered the picture, but it has come a long way since then. Now, sophisticated technology lets you precisely categorise web content, using information gathered from website metadata, keywords in the content and even image and video processing. The best contextual platforms don’t just use raw data – they use AI to interpret the language for deeper insight into page content. In the fast-paced online space, it’s crucial that the tech can keep up – contextual buying platforms must scan and categorise content not just once but multiple times a day. News sites, in particular, update their content very frequently.  

With the right solution, you can place ads alongside ultra-relevant, ultra-current content – not just content that shares one or two keywords with your brand. 

Contextual intelligence vs behavioural targeting 

How does using contextual intelligence to drive your media placement compare to a behavioural approach? We look at the key differences.   

Automated vs hands-on     

Behavioural targeting has been central to digital advertising for years. Its popularity came from its simplicity – automated data collection and automatic placement meant advertisers got results without the need for extensive planning or analysis.  

A contextual intelligence approach may require more focus but can also be more effective. Marketing teams need to put energy into defining audience segments, selecting placement keywords and categories and excluding negative content.  

Early analysis shows significant performance gains compared to behavioural targeting. When Acquire used contextual intelligence with a financial services client the results achieved showed marked improvements – a 45% increase in viewable conversions, a 23% increase in CTR and a 35% decrease in CPA. This confirmed that a customised data-driven approach combined with contextual intelligence refined target audiences and provided evidence to shift dollars – delivering better performance and media buying efficiencies.  

Sales-focused vs customer-driven  

Behavioural targeting allows brands to ‘chase’ customers across the internet, targeting them with repetitive content on various platforms and sites. While that approach may be effective in some cases, it also risks turning customers off entirely. With a contextual approach, content is placed in a way that makes intuitive sense to your audience. For example, a customer reading an article about interior design trends might see an ad for a furniture store. This built-in relevance makes it less likely for customers to feel targeted or irritated by repetitive ads.  

Third-party data vs privacy compliance 

Over the past few years, online privacy has become a major concern, with consumers growing increasingly aware of their personal privacy. That concern led to governments introducing legislation to limit personal data collection, storage and use. Unlike behavioural targeting, which relies on data collected by third-party cookies, contextual intelligence eliminates privacy concerns and meets compliance requirements. 

The proof is in the performance  

Does an in-context ad grab more attention than an unrelated piece of content? The science suggests that it does. A research project from Integral Ad Science (IAS) used eye-tracking technology to compare in-context vs out-of-context display ads, with fascinating results.   

The study found that consumers spent 3% more time looking at in-context advertising – not a huge difference. However, the really interesting data came in later: the research found that consumers were four times more likely to remember the brand from the in-context ads, and there was a 14% increase in purchase intent from consumers who viewed the in-context ad.  

It all adds up to a strong argument for contextual intelligence as a driver of media placement. While it may not be the only placement method you use when cookies disappear, it’s likely to be part of your new strategy from 2023.  

Need more detail? Talk to the Acquire team to find out how contextual intelligence fits into your digital ad strategy.