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Contextual Advertising- The Comeback We Need Right now

Aditya Labhe


For when the cookies crumble.

By the time you read this, you must have already read at least 100 if not 1000 articles on why Google’s recent takedown of 3 party cookies is either the best thing that has happened to the world of digital marketing or it’s like the worst thing ever!

Here’s one more take:

I for one believe that this could be a blessing in disguise, we as an industry might get to eat the cake when the cookie crumbles, and context is going to be that cake. The sweet, sweet context, that we all like to reference in the world of advertising and marketing.

Why is it time to move on?

  • It’s not them, it’s us: Let’s face it, consumers have taken a dislike for targeting which they consider to be spooky and in poor taste. A 2020 research by GroupM found that:

6 in 10 consumers say they are less inclined to use a product if their data is used for any purpose.

56 percent of consumers want more control over their data.

64 percent of consumers would have a negative opinion of a brand next to inappropriate content

So if the eventual goal of any ad is to sell, or earn consumers’ trust, and if 3rd party cookies are directly leading to losing consumer trust and eventual sale for a brand, doesn’t the whole thing become counter-productive? I wonder.

  • Did you know what happened to that display ad? It got showed on a fake news website: The problem of hyper-personalization data doesn’t only stop at well hyper-personalization. A non-controlled 3 party cookie environment might lead to your brand’s display ad shown in places you don’t want it to pop upon. While the increase in contextual targeting won’t directly have an impact on this, the removal of 3rd party tracking will essentially mean that at least if the consumer does land on questionable content and if your canvas shoes website was the last product they saw on a retailer website, that canvas shoe retargeting ad won’t follow them to this dodgy content they have stumbled upon.

But what’s so exciting about contextual advertising after all?

  1. It provides relevance at scale: Behavioral targeting although might be sound like a good idea to try and make an ad relevant for a consumer, it always isn’t the most sensible approach as it limits reach. On the other hand, contextual targeting provides an opportunity to reach consumers at scale.

Example: Consumer searches for a “Cool Gaming Headphone” and lands on a publisher who has unboxed the “New Cool Head Phone of your brand”, the consumer is in a receptive frame of mind hence there is a high chance that they might consider buying your product.

Example: Readers who are browsing a recipe website have a higher chance of considering buying a recipe box vs canvas shoes they browsed earlier on.

2. It provides a breather from the legal things: A lot of the privacy laws such as GDPR are heavily focused towards 3rd party cookies and at times direct 1st party data collection initiatives. Contextual advertising doesn’t necessarily rely on either.

3. It will help strike a balance between the hybrid cookies: With all of this being said, cookies haven’t exactly disappeared, Google and other ad vendors are gearing up to build their own walls to offer some relevant targeting options within their eco-systems.

  2. Trade Desk ID: Inside Publicis’ identity partnership with The Trade Desk as digital media goes ‘nuclear’ — The Drum

Contextual advertising will help drive more relevant consideration events for these new initiatives.

4. It will help strike a balance with the 1st party: Well, the good news is that the 1st party is here to stay. Contextual Targeting will also lead to more relevant consumers hitting the brand assets, which in return will mean better 1st party data enrichment and more useful personalisation which is backed by context.

In conclusion, will the cookie actually crumble? How soon before contextual is sweet again?

In reality, for an industry that is so reliant on behavioral targeting, the cookie doesn’t seem like something that would be gone for good. But, the trends are soon changing. As consumers become more aware of their personal data and the importance of “accepting” those banners they see on the brand website, adtech companies, and key digital advertising players would finally start rolling out privacy-first solutions.

Investment in contextual Targeting, 1st party initiatives, increased SEO optimisation, search ads are going to gain momentum over the next 5 years.

Important people are excited about the return of contextual advertising as well, so it’s a space to watch out for.

Verizon Media launches Next-Gen Solutions, the future of ID-less advertising

Contextual Ad Tech Leader GumGum Announces $75M investment from Goldman Sachs Growth


In Jan 2022, Google officially shelved their plans for FLOC and launched TOPIC. With Topics, a browser determines a handful of topics, like “Fitness” or “Travel & Transportation,” that represent top interests for a viewer for that week based on their browsing history. Topics are kept for only three weeks and old topics are deleted.

Above is an example illustration of the difference between 3rd party cookies (left) vs Topics (right).

With the launch of TOPICS, Google has formally taken the first steps in embracing contextual ads and targeting as a probable first step in replacing 3rd party data and cookies tracking.



Aditya Labhe

Thinker | Writer | Photographer | Learner | Adboy | Idea builder | Design enthusiast