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The cookie is dead. Advertisers can leverage new targeting tools to get back to brand building

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The cookie is dead. Advertisers can leverage new targeting tools to get back to brand building


The deprecation of the cookie is an opportunity for marketers to test new targeting with emerging AI-powered adtech that can help brands truly connect with their audiences and foster profound brand presence. Josh Rosen explores.

The cookie isn’t falling anymore. It has fallen. 2024 kicked off the year with Google turning off cookies for one percent of Chrome users. The tech giant even added Tracking Protection for those users just to be sure their data can’t be accessed by third-party cookies. 

Where does this leave digital advertisers who are trying to target their audience? 

Well, for one, it presents a significant opportunity to go back to basics and focus on actual brand-building. And this time around, AI is there to assist. 

The power of contextual targeting with emotional AI 

In 2023, there was no bigger story in the tech world than AI. The technology could be a boost to virtually every industry. For the marketing industry, emotional AI has emerged as an answer to our cookieless future, not just as a targeting tool, but a way for brands to actually connect emotionally with their intended audience – not just sell them things. 

In a nutshell, emotional AI technology analyses the sentiment of the content viewers are watching, in order to show them the most relevant ads. Let’s take the example of the husband shopping for cars. He’s searching for family-friendly vehicles with high safety ratings for his wife and kids, while (admittedly) selfishly looking for two-door sporty cars for himself. Now, if he’s watching a review of safety features on the latest SUVs, and a flashy ad for a sports car shows up, that brand just missed out on a massive opportunity to engage emotionally with that viewer. It’s not enough to just run a car ad during car-related content. The context, and the sentiment of that context, matters. 

The demise of the cookie is forcing the industry to think about old tactics, old approaches and a return to contextual targeting. Marketers want to believe that customers are just waiting, ready to watch and interact with our ads. The way that marketers can try and organically create that optimal response is by showing up in the right contextual environments. 

Make contextual targeting even more effective with first and zero-party data 

The marketing industry has more first-party and zero-party data at its disposal now than at any other time in history. Technology, analytics, and now AI can effectively integrate contextual targeting with first and zero-party data in digital advertising to enhance ad relevance.

First-party data is information collected directly by a company about its customers. By leveraging insights derived from customer interactions, brands can align their advertisements with the interests, preferences, and behaviours of their audience. For example, a cosmetic company armed with first-party data on a customer’s purchase history can strategically place ads in front of that customer based on when that person will most likely run out of a product. This will increase the likelihood of that customer engaging with the ad. 

Zero-party data is data that customers have given voluntarily, like when a consumer signs up for a music platform and selects their favourite categories. Advertisers can use such data to create highly customized and relevant ad experiences. Contextual targeting here shifts from inferring, to directly incorporating a customer’s preferences. The end result is a highly accurate, emotionally aligned experience that connects the brand with the consumer. 

Finally, back to concentrating on the customer instead of cost, clicks and conversions 

For years, it has been a race to the bottom, where the greatest amount of clicks advertisers could get for the cheapest price possible while casting the widest net, was going to somehow translate into the desired return on ad spend. Right now, we’re putting a higher value on (the wrong) metrics simply because they are available to us and can be easily reported. Just look at the recent Snoop Dogg smokeless Solo Stove campaign. It was seen as a failure because Solo measured just one thing: sales. Had it looked at a combination of metrics – increase in traffic to site, reach, penetration of market size, salience, overall ad recall, impressions – Solo Stove’s Snoop Dogg campaign would be deemed highly successful. Think about it: who was talking about Solo Stove before this ‘supposed’ marketing fiasco? 

There’s definitely a need to step back from the obsession with just metrics. Advertisers should be investing thoughtfully, understanding that building meaningful connections requires time, creativity, and a move away from the lowest-cost mentality. The shift towards a more thoughtful and strategic approach aligns with the overarching theme of contextual targeting and our post-cookie culture. 

The right targeting tools boost brand awareness and engagement 

Cookies were never an answer to digital advertising: they tracked people without their consent, led to irrelevant ad-overload, and caused brand-safety concerns. When Google first announced the imminent death of the cookie, it sparked innovation in the industry. Adtech enterprises saw a manifesting need and worked to find solutions. 

New ad targeting tools like emotional AI are proving to be effective, boosting attention by up to 20 percent. The tools are helping brands show up where their customers are most likely to engage with the ads. That’s a metric brands can really get behind. 

Josh Rosen is co-founder of Reticle AI and president of Hotspex Media, an award-winning media buying and planning agency based in Toronto, Canada.


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