The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

AI Contextual Targeting Attention

3 major changes in brand and agency tactics in the age of signal loss, survey reveals

Nano Interactive


Open Mic article

This content is produced by a publishing partner of Open Mic.

Open Mic is the self-publishing platform for the marketing industry, allowing members to publish news, opinion and insights on

Find out more

April 18, 2023 | 6 min read

By Vanessa O’Connell, head of marketing communications, Nano Interactive

By Vanessa O’Connell, head of marketing communications, Nano Interactive

The decline of cookies and other data signals is impacting media buying activities, such as targeting and measurement, says Vanessa O’Connell (head of marketing communications, Nano Interactive). Based on a survey of 150 UK brands and agencies, she looks at the top three ways that agencies and brands are adapting to these changes.

The decline of cookies plus other data signals - such as location and IP addresses - is well documented at this point. From targeting to measurement, many critical activities for media buyers are strongly impacted as a result.

It seems an apt moment to check in on how such tactics are adapting, since although Safari, Firefox and other browsers have already disallowed third-party cookies for a while, Google Chrome’s own transition seems forever delayed. However, as one report suggests, even relying on Chrome may be more limited than we think – with perhaps only around 60% of users on Google’s browser itself even addressable.

Signal loss is arguably the all-embracing challenge facing media and advertising right now. But in practical terms, what are agencies and brands doing in response? How are buying tactics adapting day-to-day to these changes, if at all? In January Nano Interactive surveyed 150 UK brands and agencies to answer the above questions – and below are three of the top trends we took from our research.

1. Attention is emerging as a useful addition to measurement tactics

In the face of cookie loss, you are still able to register a click, the challenge is losing much of the data around it – without which, it may be meaningless. Even if it hasn’t always received as much attention, campaign measurement is impeded by signal loss, just like targeting.

As part of our temperature taking of the UK buyer community, therefore, we measured distribution of - and satisfaction with - various established metrics, alongside one newer measure, attention.

At a high level, we can see that attention metrics mark the evolution of viewability. While a viewable impression is counted simply when half of a creative is in view for a second, attention may incorporate several different factors – from the amount of time an ad is in view, to page quality and ad real estate – all of which combine to form a potentially more nuanced measure of engagement in context. Here are some of our findings:

  • People seem to see newer metrics like attention as a genuine alternative to more established metrics like click-through rate (CTR) and cost per click (CPC);
  • When presented with a list of 10 different metrics, 57% say attention is best to report and optimize against;
  • But - one in three said tools need to improve for attention metrics to be usable.

Notably also, larger advertisers over-indexed for positivity towards attention - among those with budgets over £1m per year, only 21% showed negative sentiment towards attention metrics. For these respondents, their most used adjective was 'valuable'.

2. Artificial intelligence, meet targeting – or should that be advertising in general?

To say 2023 has seen a resurgence of interest in artificial intelligence (AI) is an understatement. But while we have seen innumerable guides on how to get the best results from ChatGPT, how exactly advertising and media buying will be affected by the re-emerging interest in AI is as yet unclear.

Therefore, in our survey, we asked brands and agencies what activities they thought would be most affected by AI. More than half of respondents – and the highest number overall – highlighted targeting in their responses. This was closely followed by campaign optimization, then workflow streamlining, creative solutions and finally budget optimization.

Respondents to the survey agreed even more strongly that AI has the power to transform contextual targeting even further, as it continues to fill the gap to some extent for the gaps left by signal loss. Arguably, it has done so already, particularly in the last year – though next generation contextual targeting may still be a relatively new concept, and not yet always well understood. Therefore, it would still benefit from more education and case studies across the market to keep growing.

When Gartner made the case for four technologies now set to transform digital advertising last August, it was seemingly early to the renewed interest in AI across tech. It also predicted that “The suppression of personal data for marketing alongside the rise of AI to assess contextual response anonymously is altering the data foundations of advertising and content marketing.”

3. As cookies decline, contextual targeting thrives

Perhaps it’s not a huge surprise – but the survey showed cookie decline is the top concern for the largest advertisers right now, followed by their business’s environmental impact and social responsibility credentials.

On a related note, our respondents also suggested that 2023 would see an 8% swing from audience targeting to contextual – this again among those with >£1m annual spend. If this were reflected across the entire UK buyer market, according to latest IAB Ad Spend report, it would equate to an increase of around £770m in contextual spend.

Especially among larger advertisers and media buyers, it would seem that the UK market is beginning to see a rebalancing from people-based methods, towards cookie, profiling and identifier-free targeting. When we asked our respondents why they had increased spend on contextual, the answers were telling:

  • “Because once we know our audience it feels like a safer way to get a healthy ROI on investments.”
  • “Demos are becoming increasingly harder to reach.”
  • “We are opening to wider global markets.”

Trust and security, global scale, return on investment (ROI) – all of these qualities were once taken for granted under people-based targeting. But all are now increasingly challenged, it would seem, in the age of signal loss.

But our research suggests there is hope for success in advertising through advanced contextual targeting. Both in terms of overturning the negative public perception of personal targeting – but also in delivering futureproof success for our clients.

Download the full report: Agency & Brand Tactics in the Age of Signal Loss

AI Contextual Targeting Attention


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +