With Cookies Gone, Everything Old Is New Again | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

With Cookies Gone, Everything Old Is New Again


For the digital ad industry, 2024 marks a significant turning point with the demise of third-party tracking cookies. As advertisers bid farewell to these familiar tools, they are compelled to navigate a new world of targeting. Among the promising alternatives that have emerged, contextual targeting shines as a leading alternative.

At its core, contextual targeting revitalizes the foundational concept that has powered advertising since its inception: reaching the right audience according to the content they're consuming. However, in the age of sophisticated machine learning models, this traditional formula is experiencing a modern makeover that's akin to driving a high-tech car with an array of advanced features compared to the basic, analog vehicles of the past.

The Evolution of Advertising Targeting

Traditionally, if an advertiser sought to reach a specific audience, such as golf enthusiasts, they would place their advertisements in golf-focused publications. The idea was simple yet effective: Put your message where your target audience is most likely to see it. However, this approach had its limitations, as it relied heavily on manual placement and lacked the precision and scalability that modern advertisers crave.

With the advent of digital advertising and third-party tracking cookies, marketers gained access to a treasure trove of user data that allowed for highly targeted ads. These cookies tracked users' online behavior, enabling advertisers to serve personalized content based on their browsing history and preferences. It was a game-changer, but it came at a cost — user privacy and data security concerns began to loom large.

The Demise of Third-Party Cookies

As privacy regulations tightened and users became more aware of data privacy issues, the use of third-party tracking cookies fell out of favor. The writing was on the wall: a more privacy-focused and user-centric approach was needed. In 2024, Google plans to take the leap by phasing out support for third-party cookies.

Amid this shifting landscape, contextual targeting has emerged as a promising alternative. At its essence, it harks back to the age-old wisdom of placing ads in the right context to reach the intended audience. However, the power of modern contextual targeting lies in its ability to harness advanced machine learning models to uncover relevant contexts in diverse digital spaces.

Unlike the traditional approach, where advertisers solely rely on specific publications or websites, contextual targeting leverages sophisticated algorithms to identify contextual signals across the web. These signals encompass a range of factors, including the content of web pages, user behavior on those pages, and the relationships between different pieces of content. By analyzing these contextual signals, advertisers can identify and target their desired audiences with precision.

Imagine being able to reach golf enthusiasts not only on golf-focused publications but also in a wide array of other online environments where they may engage with content related to golf, sports, leisure, or even lifestyle. Contextual targeting opens new possibilities by uncovering hidden pockets of audience engagement across the digital landscape.

In one example from our company, a leading global supplier of ready-to-assemble furniture and housewares aimed to reach a home improvement audience with a special focus on fathers. We created a bespoke model for the semantic audiences as a proxy to identify the pages where the seed audience - and others like them - are most likely to be online. With that, the retailer was able to build audiences and data-driven contextual strategies based on shared user behavior that drove impressive results.

The Benefits of Contextual Targeting

Contextual targeting offers several key advantages in the post-cookie era:

  • Privacy-Friendly: Contextual targeting doesn't rely on tracking individual users, making it more aligned with privacy regulations and user expectations.

  • Relevance: By placing ads in relevant contexts, advertisers can deliver content that is more likely to resonate with their target audience.

  • Brand Safety: Advertisers can ensure their ads are displayed in safe and appropriate environments by avoiding content that may be harmful or controversial.

  • Scalability: Contextual targeting can be applied across a wide range of websites and platforms, making it a scalable solution for advertisers.

  • Flexibility: Advertisers can adapt their targeting strategies dynamically based on changing trends and audience behaviors.

Contextual targeting is poised to become the cornerstone of precision advertising in the post-cookie world. By harnessing the power of advanced machine learning models and analyzing contextual signals, advertisers can reach their desired audiences with accuracy and relevance. This modern makeover of the age-old advertising formula represents a bright future for digital advertising, where privacy, relevance, and scalability can coexist harmoniously.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Jeff Ragovin is CEO of Fyllo.