Staff Writer
Jul 22, 2021

While cookies are getting burnt, contextual solutions and others are baking

At an invite-only roundtable hosted by Campaign in partnership with Integral Ad Science, APAC’s top marketing leaders discussed the growth of contextual adverts, the downsides of fragmentation, and debated which metrics will ultimately prove the best measures of success.  

Attendees at the roundtable, (from top left, clockwise): Colleen Ngo, VP of partnerships & investment, APAC, Xaxis; Laura Quigley, SVP APAC, Integral Ad Science; Mitch Waters, SVP - Southeast Asia, Australia & New Zealand, The Trade Desk; Isabel Castro, VP digital marketing, Gojek; Jessica Beaton, director, APAC media & digital marketing, Disney; Peter Mitchell, global comms and media lead IFCN, Reckitt Benckiser; Jessica Goodfellow, deputy editor & tech lead at Campaign Asia
Attendees at the roundtable, (from top left, clockwise): Colleen Ngo, VP of partnerships & investment, APAC, Xaxis; Laura Quigley, SVP APAC, Integral Ad Science; Mitch Waters, SVP - Southeast Asia, Australia & New Zealand, The Trade Desk; Isabel Castro, VP digital marketing, Gojek; Jessica Beaton, director, APAC media & digital marketing, Disney; Peter Mitchell, global comms and media lead IFCN, Reckitt Benckiser; Jessica Goodfellow, deputy editor & tech lead at Campaign Asia
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While Google announced a delay to the deprecation of third-party cookies until late 2023 — to allow advertisers, publishers, and regulators to forge their plans — marketers are keenly aware that the industry is making a seismic shift away from third-party data.

Research and testing of alternatives are ongoing, and the industry continues to prepare for a cookie-less world with different approaches. Marketers are turning to a mix of solutions, with universal identifiers, first-party data, and contextual targeting all rising to prominence. But how will these work together, and can alternative solutions scale to provide the precision and results that behavioural targeting could, while prioritising consumer privacy and consent?

These questions were discussed during an engaging and wide-ranging roundtable, hosted in June by Campaign in partnership with Integral Ad Science. The event invited some of APAC’s top marketing leaders to share where they are on their journey away from cookies. It was moderated by Campaign Asia’s deputy editor & technology lead Jess Goodfellow and co-hosted by Laura Quigley, senior vice president for APAC at Integral Ad Science.

Planning the move away from cookies

Isabel Castro, vice president of digital marketing at Gojek, explained how the company is focusing less on a post-cookie future and more on navigating the chaotic landscape that ensued following Apple’s iOS 14.5 update. This new operating system prompts users to opt-in for tracking via IDFA, making it harder to target audiences. Flurry Analytics, a Verizon-owned measurement firm, estimates that just 11% of iOS 14.5 users worldwide have opted-in to tracking.

“Gojek is primarily app-based, and we’re already experiencing challenges in ad ops and measurement in markets where iOS is more prevalent,” says Castro. “We’re about 90% Android in Indonesia, so we’re not too worried about targeting yet, but we’re already starting to prepare for when Android follows suit.”

Castro says Gojek still has a “huge amount of first-party data” to call on, and the company maintains a rich picture of its audience across multiple services, including rideshare, food delivery, and digital payments. Targeting users directly through its own channels has always been and will continue to remain an important part of the strategy. 

“However, during the pandemic, the decline in needing to use rideshare for example means a decrease in users opening our app, which can limit campaign reach and effectiveness,” she adds. 

Peter Mitchell, Global Comms and Media Lead for Infant and Child Nutrition at Reckitt Benckiser, agrees that brands with a wealth of first-party data will find the upcoming challenges of a cookie-less ecosystem less daunting. 

“In markets such as Latin America and the US, I have between 70% and 90% of all mothers on my database, and PII data on all of them. That is a very enviable position to be in for what is coming up in the next couple of years,” says Mitchell. 

Ringing the changes

In anticipation of upcoming changes, Xaxis has assessed the potential impacts of third-party data loss in APAC. 

“A majority of our buys are in-app environments and typically skewed towards being Android heavy,” says Colleen Ngo, Vice President of Partnerships and Investment, APAC, at Xaxis. “Cookie dependency is not there within that app environment. So I think from a generalised Asia-Pacific perspective, the impact is not going to be as drastic as some other regions.” 

This may buy the region some time but doesn’t negate the need to find solutions. Assessments by Xaxis have thrown up solutions ranging from “peer alternative identity one-for-one replacement to aggregating audiences, contextual, and valuing first-party data a lot more,” says Ngo. “Clients and industry players are all trying to figure out how to navigate the entire landscape.”

There was consensus among speakers that APAC is behind other regions, particularly the US and Europe when testing solutions. 

Ngo posits that this is fuelled by many companies having headquarters in London, New York or the Bay Area.

“I would say APAC as a region is starting to take the lead in trying new things,” adds Ngo. “Being innovative and pushing partners to look at the region as an equal contributor to the revenue dictates how we get prioritised in the testing calendar.” 

Cookies were far from perfect, but they were the enemy the industry knew. The future looks much more fragmented without a universal ID that vendors can agree on. Google’s proposed browser standard FLoC has been roundly rejected by major browsers and Amazon.

With no standard from the industry and no professional body in place to take responsibility, it will fall on marketers to make solutions work. This has the potential to create a system that was even less standardised than it was before, particularly with FANG companies vying for dominance.

Where does contextual fit in?

IAS’s Quigley highlighted that many companies are testing contextual targeting and avoidance solutions bolstered by new technology. 

"Contextual strategies are the future. It isn’t just about avoiding unsuitable content. Contextual targeting delivers advertisers unprecedented precision for targeting content that is contextually relevant for a given brand or campaign to increase recognition and engagement. With the death of cookies looming, marketers can drive outcomes with contextual targeting while future-proofing a cookieless targeting strategy"

Gojek’s Castro adds that for general reach and frequency campaigns, contextual is very effective. “We don’t necessarily absolutely need to target very specific people in our audience. As long as we appear contextually relevant to your product, that’s great. Unique identifiers are more important for CPA-measured campaigns.”

The panel touched upon the fact that, while the iOS 14.5 update made headlines, Safari has prevented cross-site tracking for years – and that perhaps the change may bring better solutions to fill this blank spot. 

A shift towards contextual advertising could certainly increase CPMs eventually, speculates Quigley. “It’s an advantage to publishers to be sitting on a wealth of [first-party] data and charge for that.” 

“I think where users have chosen to opt-in for ad tracking on apps, that type of inventory will become even more premium,” says Ngo. “I feel like there’s going to be a lot more technology involved: there’s a lot of buzz around artificial intelligence, machine learning, such as natural language processing to achieve a more nuanced understanding of the content, and different ways of expanding the audiences. I think there will also be more expectation around the creative itself.”

Privacy by design?

Many in the group agreed that privacy and consent have been 'weaponised' by tech giants such as Apple and Google, but there is less discussion around the fact that tracking funds content.

Creating industry playbooks that tell publishers how to ask for consent might be a solution. 

Some attendees admitted they’d considered opting out of tracking on certain apps in the latest iOS, as communication around what data would be collected was not clear. 

This nails into the beating heart of the problem: if consumers feel their privacy is respected, they are more willing to opt-in - something that some on the panel feel the industry needs to do a better job at addressing. 

Until testing is completed, it’s hard to know how success will be measured in the cookie-less landscape. “We will have to make some adjustments,” says Ngo. “Whether it’s going to be a higher unique reach cost per user or a higher cost per view, we don’t know. But the outcome should not change – we’re still trying to drive sales and reach users.” 

Taking a step away from hyper-granular targeting could be a refreshing change of pace for an industry that is becoming riddled with data paralysis and data wastage. 

“We forget that that contextual is something that we’ve been doing forever,” says Castro. “Whether it’s TV or print or outdoor, it’s all contextual, right? It’s about being relevant to the consumer.”

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