As The Cookie Crumbles, Advertising Will Only Get Better

July 30, 2021 | If cookies are inaccurate, why do brands rely on them?

July 30, 2021

Sarah Dale serves as Chief Revenue Officer at Nativo, the premier content technology platform, where she oversees the company’s buy-side media division.

Here is the link to see what ad data Google has on you  —  the cookie-based summary that determines what is marketed to you and how. As you peruse this list of topics and demographic info, note how accurate it is – or isn’t.

For me, more than half are wrong (47 out of 82): Google has me as a male, both with and without kids (I have two), interested in classical music (nope) and combat sports (nope, again).

I wanted to see if this was an anomaly, so I conducted an internal survey at Nativo. Out of a sample of over 100, over 50% of the respondents reported their personalization as only “somewhat accurate.” Half weren’t even aware they could access this information.

If cookies are mostly inaccurate, why are brands relying on them so heavily?


Cookie Blind Spots

With the deprecation of the cookie looming, it’s the perfect time to reexamine some of the pretenses of modern digital advertising. And as many advertisers, marketers, brands and publishers are now discovering, life with the cookie was not everything we thought it was. The glorious age of the cookie was somewhat of an illusion.

As we’ve discussed before, current restrictions in Safari (iOS) and Firefox effectively hide about 40% of brands’ US audiences from their targeting and attribution efforts. As of 2018, 64% of tracking cookies were either blocked or deleted by web browsers (75% on mobile!), and consumers continue to become savvier in terms of privacy, anonymous browsing, and ad blocking.

Big tech is responding in kind: Apple’s most recent iOS updates put privacy center stage once again. Cookies simply haven’t lived up to their potential —  our survey found more than 80% wish they could edit their own personalization options for accuracy.

Fragmented cookies and retargeting annoyances

Everyone’s experienced absurd retargeting loops: buy a mattress or appliance you’ll only ever need one of — and you’ll see those ads forever.

Then there’s the other, creepier end of the spectrum, like when Target figured out a teen’s pregnancy before her own family did.

Contextual advertising moves beyond this by making advertorial content appear where it is actually relevant and useful. The days of having a toilet seat chasing you around the internet should be over, and we should be happy about that!  

Marketers and brands did the best they could, but even more industry-shaking change is coming. We must move forward without making the same mistakes in the next evolutionary stage of advertising.

Contextual advertising has relevance built in

Contextual targeting is central to this new reality. Not only is the content aligned to a publisher’s themes and topics, it is also hitting the reader at a time of heightened intention.

Contextual targeting uses content, not cookies, to reach consumers by analyzing key terms, visual attention and semantic data. This psychological angle is important: it’s the difference between an annoying flashing banner on the periphery of our interest and a timely, helpful, entertaining piece of content that we actually want to read more of.

To put it bluntly, contextual advertising does what it says on the tin: presents the right message at the right time in the right context, independent of cookies or individual identifiers.

“We must move forward without making the same mistake in the next evolutionary stage of advertising.”

Marked success from native advertising

Where cookies failed, contextual targeting can help usher in a better era of digital advertising. I’ve seen the success of contextual targeting firsthand:

  • Contextually targeted ads see a 34% lift compared to data targeted ads in viewable CTR.
  • Average time on content shows a similar lift, with 32% more time spent on branded content.

For campaigns in verticals and/or without any platform-measure cookie-based KPIs, the numbers are even higher:

  • 43% lift for vCTR in contextual and
  • 48% lift for average time on content.

If your goal is engagement with the content and long-term education about your brand matching branded content with optimal distribution sites is far more effective than relying on 3rd parties incentivized by scale.

“To put it bluntly, contextual advertising does what it says on the tin: presents the right message at the right time in the right context, independent of cookies or individual identifiers.”

This will be the theme of the cookie-less world of brand marketing: refocusing on offering long term quality and value while building a better relationship with the consumer, in a way that makes advertorial content a source of value in and of itself —  an altogether more effective way of winning real consumer loyalty.

The cookie crumbling may be the best thing to happen to digital advertising, marketing, and the consumer experience for quite some time. It’s giving rise to something that already works much better —  and we look forward to seeing it unfold from the front row.  

I’d love to hear your thoughts on your Google ad data. What did you find most interesting about your personal ad data?

Written By:

Sarah Dale CRO, Nativo
Sarah Dale
CRO, Nativo

More about Sarah

Sarah brings to Nativo a successful track record in media and content sales, previously working with large publishers, digital start-ups and content consultancies. Before joining Nativo, Sarah spent 10 years at The Wall Street Journal in sales and digital, ultimately leading the content studio to produce programs like Cocainenomics (Netflix) and Feeding America (Mini). Sarah has been a part of many award-winning initiatives and currently holds two Cannes Lions and D&AD Pencils.


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