Publishers push contextual advertising, but first-party data is key

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Marketers’ desire for the type of unduplicated audiences that cookies deliver often appears to be at odds with the drive to protect individual privacy. Publisher proposals suggest replacing cookies with contextual advertising, but a recent survey says marketers are skeptical.

  • According to a survey by data-management company Lotame, 68% of publishers believe contextual targeting is a good substitute for cookie-tracking. They highlight their strengths in creating a powerful advertising context with specialised content created to engage audiences.
  • In contrast, 65% of marketers are skeptical about the contextual targeting solutions being proposed by publishers as a replacement for the one-to-one targeting cookies have traditionally supported. They complain that context alone can’t supply the level of targeting, measurement and attribution they need.
  • The survey raises the idea that publishers’ secret weapon could be their own first party data collected from onsite or affiliate ecommerce, subscriptions, memberships and surveys. Already 44% of publishers use their own data compared with 26% relying on third-party data from vendors.
The big picture 

The release of Lotame’s survey findings highlights publishing and marketing’s different attitudes to contextual targeting in the same week Google doubled down on its interest-based approach to advertising.

  • Echoing the publisher position, the search giant also said “advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising”.
  • Google’s solution is to categorise individuals as part of an “interest group” and for their browser to store this categorisation on their own device. Ad targeting will then be managed directly by the individual device, not on a third-party server.

It sounds like Google’s interest-based approach to targeting will ultimately support the publisher position on contextual targeting.

  • Publishers will be able to create and own interest groups around certain types of content on their own sites.
  • They will be able to allow third-party publishers to use their interest groups to target advertising on their sites.

That doesn’t mean that Google’s plans for cookie-replacement are perfect. It has published little detail about how its new system works and some familiar publisher problems, like audience leakage, may still be an issue.

And Google’s FLoCs are not the only post-cookie identity-resolution solution being proposed. Cookie-replacement identifiers such as Unified ID or LiveRamp IdentityLink give marketers the one-to-one targeting that they are looking for and the companies developing them are not giving up yet.

For the long term, publishers should be focusing on building and packaging their advertising inventory with contextual targeting in mind. This will give them the edge in selling content based solutions to marketers, post cookies.

They must also continue to work to collect and manage data from their own ecommerce, subscription and ecommerce operations. Google even advised this in their announcement: “Developing strong relationships with customers has always been critical for brands to build a successful business, and this becomes even more vital in a privacy-first world.”

The premium-publishers association DCN echoes this idea, “The future of identity resolution will require advertisers to work directly with trusted partners across the entire ecosystem.” Whether working to deliver advertising solutions through Google, independent ad-tech or directly, DCN believes first-party data will allow publishers to help advertisers “start to piece together identity in the absence of third-party cookies”.

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