By Aimee Pearcy | Journalist

July 18, 2022 | 6 min read

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Third-party data isn’t what it used to be, and the deprecation of third-party cookies has left many publishers panicking about how they will target, engage, and convert their audiences.

But contextual targeting has the potential to be a significantly better targeting tool than cookies ever were.

As part of The Drum’s Cannes-Do 2022, we partnered with leading native advertising and recommendations platform Taboola to discuss how publishers can use contextual targeting as a skeleton key to power-up their campaigns.

Joining The Drum’s assistant editor and moderator, Jenni Baker, were:

  • Stacey Delaney, regional director of northern Europe, Taboola

  • Amy Brown, commercial director, Hearst

  • Randi Stipes, chief marketing officer, IBM Watson Advertising and Weather

Thanks to evolving privacy regulations and initiatives over the past several years, it has become increasingly difficult for advertisers to target and reach the audiences that they want to connect with.

“We're facing a world where consumers are a lot more savvy and a lot more aware of their own data and their own personal information,” says Hearst’s Brown. “They’re very conscious about who they share that with. So, you've got the challenge of that. We've also got GDPR, which came in a few years ago. That and other privacy laws are constantly evolving.”

Taboola’s Delaney agrees that it has become harder for advertisers, but says it is important to consider things from a consumer point of view. “I think that we've got to a place where companies are using consumer data, and it's not necessarily in a way that people want them to. It's becoming much more of a privacy-first world.”

When one door closes, another opens – decreasing reliance on third party data and demographics poses an opportunity for advertisers to find more respectful and possibly even better ways to reach and connect with their audience.

“First of all, they should build their own first-party data, because it's the third-party cookie that’s going away, not the first-party cookies,” explains Delaney.

As well as being less invasive to consumers, first-party data can help advertisers and publishers to understand their audience better, which can help them to engage them in more meaningful ways. “There's no way that you can get first party data on all the customers that you want to target,” notes Delaney. “But you can use contextual advertising to do that.”

Yet, as IBM’s Stipes points out, there must be a fair value exchange in order for this to be successful. “Our audiences are getting savvier. They know – maybe not to the same degree that we know – how they're being marketed to, but they are getting smarter. And so, we have to make sure that there's a payoff for them.”

Google has announced that it will stop the use of third-party cookies in Chrome by the end of 2023. For advertisers, marketers, and publishers, figuring out how to respond to this rapidly shifting digital environment has proved to be a challenge. “We're getting so close to the deadline now that you everyone needs to be testing and learning and constantly adapting and trying all these new solutions and seeing what works for them,” says Brown.

There’s a good reason why so many organizations still seem to be floundering – over the past couple of years, most of us have had significantly bigger life and societal changes to consider than the deprecation of the cookie. “I feel like we're just starting to get back,” says Stipes. “I'm thrilled that we're having this conversation, because marketers aren't really feeling the urgency. They should. And we shouldn't wait for the walled gardens to tell us what to do.”

Taboola’s network of over 9,000 publisher partners allows them to aggregate data about what people are reading about around the world. “In the UK, right now, people are reading more about the supply chain crisis going into a recession, the rising cost of living. Now, a marketer could play on this. They could release a native ad that would appeal to someone that is cost-conscious, right?” explains Delaney. “That builds a meaningful connection between the brand that's putting that content out there and the person reading. It is really a value exchange.”

To be successful, marketers should work with technology partners who put consumers first and use data responsibly. They should also make sure that their campaigns are relevant at that given moment in time.

Delaney discusses a campaign that Taboola ran with Dell throughout the height Covid-19 pandemic: “This was at the time when students were stuck in universities and they couldn't leave. And so [Dell] put out specific creative messaging that was aimed at those individuals. It talked to what they were going through and was a super successful campaign.”

“That’s the thing about contextual,” concludes Delaney. “Yes, it's placement. But it's also about moment in time and relevancy - it means so many different things. If you can get all of those things right, I think you'll be really powerful.”

Watch the full panel at the top of this article or visit the Drum’s Cannes hub to check out all of our panel discussions from the Croisette.

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