Combining contextual relevance and creative messaging for an efficient, privacy-first solution to data targeting regulations

The future of targeted advertising is fast-approaching, and it’s no secret brands and media companies need to be prepared. The topic of personal identifiers and audience targeting without “cookies” has been overanalyzed, overcomplicated, and over-discussed for years, especially when it comes to data. However, what hasn’t been talked about as much is how ad creative will play a role in the “cookie-pocolypse”. 

The below will define this cookieless future and reveal how contextual intelligence, creative relevance, and multicultural targeting will unfold in this new age of advertising. Also, a big thank you to a few of our media partners, MiQ and KORTX, for providing insightful research. 

What are “cookies”, and why do they matter?

If you haven’t already heard, small pieces of data that track users across the web, called “cookies,” are phasing out of the browsers you navigate and the websites you insert personal information into. They know where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, and actions you’ve taken online. They know the ads you’ve seen so that brands can attribute their ad to a specific event or conversion.

A world is fast approaching where this use of personal information will not be available without explicit consent. Sounds great, right? Maybe not… A cookieless future will inevitably increase the amount and height of the “walled gardens” of the Facebooks, Googles, and Amazons of the world. 

So, how will advertisers use data to target users without cookies? There are three types of data to work with:

  • Authenticated: Login information and opt-in consent (e.g. phones, emails) to build a user profile. This highly coveted data is rich in quality and longevity, but hard to come by with growing consumer privacy concerns
  • Aggregated: Brands and advertisers can build cohorts to analyze and identify trends. These are known as clean rooms, which are privacy-first with no access to individual data (but very much in its early stages)
  • Anonymous: Contextual data based on websites, zip codes, etc for publishers who don’t want to authenticate users. It is completely private and brands can optimize spend on a timely basis, yet not as narrowly targeted as authenticated or aggregated data

Overall, there’s not one catch-all solution to replace the cookie identifiers that have driven the digital media landscape for so long. Combining the solutions above to optimize campaign spend will be the balancing act for brands to conquer. Advertisers will ultimately need to test, learn, and share this earned data to gain back the trust of the industry and, more importantly, consumers.

How to reach users without cookies

The first thing that comes to mind when targeting users without 3rd party data is contextual targeting. Tech advancements that focus on the visual and text components of where ads are served (e.g. web pages, TV channels) provide contextual intelligence for the advertiser. Brand safety is an inherent function of this strategy, and when combined with first-party data, contextual targeting is just as effective as cookie-based advertising, if not more so.

An AdAge article reveals that “a new study by GumGum explores why ads that are contextually relevant are more engaging, more memorable and more likely to drive purchase intent than ones that aren’t”. Consistent with overwhelming advocacy for their privacy, consumers also expect relevancy over personalization in their ads, which eventually leads to brand advocacy online. With relevance as a focal point, advertisers and creatives can leverage contextual data to tailor imagery and messaging to these users without hyper-targeting and sacrificing their autonomy. This is otherwise known as inclusive advertising.

Despite the ever-changing landscape of identity and advertising technologies, one thing brands can control is the connection with their audience through relevant creative and a deep level of understanding at scale.

Targeting and creative strategies for multicultural audiences

The old ways of “General Market” targeting are outdated and non inclusive. As of July 2020, Nielsen reported Hispanic, African American and Asian American people make up 40% of the U.S. population. It’s becoming more and more difficult to distinguish between general and multicultural audiences, requiring advertisers to adapt to more diversity-driven targeting methods and truly understand their audience’s behavior on a deeper level.

Utilizing language and contextually relevant strategies serves as a launchpad for precise, data-driven targeting in the future. The initial audience engaging with and converting from contextually intelligent creative lays a foundation for both advanced tech and 1st party data to work its magic and eventually scale advertising campaigns.

A study from Truthset in June 2021 revealed that “up to 70% of ethnicity-based targeting could potentially miss the intended audience”, disclosing the challenges involved with relying too heavily on data when it comes to targeting specific ethnicities. When relevant creative drives the population of a target audience, precision and hyper-segmentation follows.

How and where to initiate user action with ad creative can be tricky. The simplified model below is helpful when running a full-funnel campaign:

  • Upper Funnel: Heavy branding with call to action (CTA) to drive website traffic
  • Mid Funnel: Align messaging with targeting layers, and diversify media mix to drive engagement and website events
  • Lower Funnel: Strong CTA to initiate conversion and achieve campaign objective

Diversity and inclusion in advertising

Google teamed up with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to report on character depictions in the most-watched ads on Youtube from 2015-2019. This is what they found:

  • Almost 40% of characters were people of color
  • BIPOC characters were 3x as likely as white characters to be portrayed in leadership positions


  • Only 6% of characters were Latinx, less than 1% of characters were Indigenous, only 2% of ads depicted 1 or more LGBTQIA+ characters, and white characters were almost 2x as likely to be portrayed as especially intelligent

The advertising industry has made significant strides in diversity and inclusion in its depiction of the people in ads, but there’s clearly a long way to go. When developing creative for an upcoming campaign, some helpful questions to ask as a guide are: Are we collaborating with people from these communities? Does this ad elevate their stories and reflect diversity of underrepresented groups? Does this portrayal challenge stereotypes?

The ads we create and stories we tell shape how viewers see the world. It is a powerful responsibility to take on toxic narratives and to accurately represent real, inclusive audiences that reflect our world.

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AdAge: Contextual Targeting

GWI: De-risking Data

Google: Diversity and Inclusion Trends

Kortx: Multicultural Audience Guide

MiQ: Identity Crisis