Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How 2020 fuelled a move to more impactful campaigns – let’s look ahead

By Tanzil Bukhari, Managing Director, EMEA at DoubleVerify

With the ongoing impact of COVID-19, 2020 has seen a paradigm shift for advertisers.

Meanwhile, Apple’s Safari and Firefox browsers are moving to put an end to third-party cookies; Google’s Chrome following suit estimated by 2022. The era of tracking via the cookie is coming to a close.

Alongside these cookie-deprecation measures, data regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), are putting further pressure on advertisers to take a more privacy-friendly approach to ad placement.

However, despite these transformations, marketers still need to deliver high-performing campaigns to reach new audiences and drive greater value from their ad spend. This is particularly important with around half of all marketers facing budget cuts over the next year.

So how can advertisers navigate this new normal to drive performance and real business outcomes from their investments?

Understanding new opportunities

Content consumption skyrocketed in the wake of COVID-19. Our research indicates that on average, screen time has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic, with consumers globally spending almost 7 hours every day looking at digital content.

You only have to look at content providers like Netflix, which added an average of two new seasons of TV shows every single day in over a month in the summer, to appreciate the scope of consumers’ desire for content.

While digital news, streaming services and social media have seen the biggest growth, every content type, device and social platform has seen a net increase in use. For marketers, one of the biggest opportunities lies in CTV, as 44% of consumers revealed they were using these devices more in 2020. This is in line with IAB’s indication of a 46% year-on-year increase in CTV ad budgets.

However, with complex, international stories dominating the news agenda, the need to ensure that brands appear in suitable and safe environments hasn’t wavered.

Brands should seek to tap into the opportunity we’re seeing in consumption growth, while capitalising on new approaches that are needed to ensure safety, suitability and privacy are top of mind.

Rethinking data-driven advertising

To drive campaign performance in the wake of the pandemic, navigate sensitive news cycles and meet regulatory needs, marketers are encouraged to consider what information they receive from technology partners to ensure they have clarity on the impact of their campaigns.

But how do they do this? As with every new or emerging channel, they want to know that their media investment is protected, and they want to be able to evaluate its efficacy in the same manner that they do other digital media channels.

Trust starts with a foundation of quality. Advertisers need to know that their ads have been seen, by a real person, in the intended geo, adjacent to content that is safe and suitable for the brand. Once this baseline of quality has been established, one can begin to scrutinise performance.

Given privacy constraints, alternative ways of leveraging data to inform performance are critical. However, current performance measurement solutions have their limitations. On the quick side, only basic metrics like click-through rates or viewability would be available in near real-time. Meanwhile, on the slow side, more sophisticated information – like brand lift studies – are only provided long after campaigns have finished.

Digital marketing is no longer about who, it’s about what and how

Advanced tools can evaluate ad performance through metrics like audibility, zoom-level on the device being used and much more. Further analysis of user-interactions, like touches and screen orientation or video and audio control feedback, offers additional detail.

Marketers no longer can, or should, know personal information about the individuals they target. But, performance tools can achieve all the above without the need for personal data. In short, privacy friendly approaches don’t have to sacrifice precision or hinder reach.

Rather than answering who is looking at the content, performance tools have answered how they are looking at it. However, these insights are just part of the picture.

To place ads effectively in the first place, it’s important to also know what content they are appearing alongside. That’s where contextual targeting comes in.

It’s time to ask ‘what’s the meaning of this?’

Rapidly moving news topics, particularly those with either a vast amount of content being created regarding it (such as COVID-19) or those generating highly opinionated coverage (such as protest movements) pose a challenge to marketers.

However, it’s not only the topic of content that needs to be understood, but its context and whether the tone and underlying meaning makes the content brand safe or not. Much of the content surrounding the pandemic may be suitable for certain brands to appear alongside – for example, lockdown friendly family activities, recipes and at-home exercise routines would likely be safe for most brands. And, with consumers engaging with increasing amounts of content, marketers should not shy away from outreach.

However, some negative articles on COVID-19, for example, covering death figures or increasing lockdown measures, will not be suitable. Adding further complexity, some brand verticals (like healthcare) may be deemed more appropriate to appear on certain content, such as COVID-19 news than others, like travel. Marketers need holistic insights that can help them sift out the needles in the haystack and ensure their ads only appear in the right places for their brand.

Contextual targeting provides marketers with this information. With semantic science and artificial intelligence, contextual targeting technology can understand the context, tone and meaning of content at scale, and in real-time. When used effectively by identifying language-independent concepts and putting in place rules to determine the correct meaning of a word, marketers can drive placements to content relevant to their brand, continue to advertise on suitable news content, and safely avoid that which poses a risk.

Navigating 2020 and beyond

It’s a turbulent time for marketers. The pandemic, the deprecation of the cookie and changing content consumption habits are converging in an unprecedented year. There’s no silver bullet to navigating these transformations, each requires different tools, mindsets and approaches.

However, the common learning that can be taken from each is the need to challenge the status quo and to rethink how we can drive ad performance and generate business outcomes. And this isn’t all on marketers themselves. Embracing the opportunity presented by content consumption while ensuring ad placements are safe and relevant means demanding more from technology providers, to better optimise data available.

Privacy-friendly, precise insights and placements are possible from advanced verification and contextual targeting technology. Not only that, in order to thrive and drive up campaign performance in 2020 and beyond, they’re essential.