Why Advocacy Groups Need to Focus on Contextual Advertising in a Cookieless World

As tech companies propel us towards a cookie-less future, many of us in the progressive advocacy sector are left to wonder if a more open and transparent internet will impact our ability to connect with the communities that shape the grassroots movements that are changing the world for better. Google’s planned 2022 phase-out of third-party cookie tracking for its Chrome browsers will have a huge impact on the future of digital advertising, but especially for the progressive advocacy community. 

To run a successful digital advocacy paid media campaign that reaches underrepresented communities, you have to start by establishing trust with your audience. Across the board, people are frustrated with having their data tracked (and compromised) when they browse social media or their favorite websites. This is especially true of BIPOC, queer, or otherwise marginalized communities who already deal with over-policing and heavy surveillance. Whether advertisers want to acknowledge it or not, cookie-based targeting just adds another layer of personal intrusion. 

So with all of this in mind, how can progressive organizations embrace a more open and transparent internet without seeing a negative impact on their efforts to fundraising, organize, mobilize or persuade? 


Contextual Targeting

Contextual advertising will be the best way to prepare for a cookieless future. Contextual ad targeting, unlike interest or affinity based advertising, allows advertisers to insert ads on websites where the content is most relevant to the actual ad, allowing you to better appeal to your audience since they are already engaging with content that is contextually similar to your ad. 

With contextual advertising, subtlety is part of the appeal and success of the tactic. When used in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) space, brands use contextual targeting to serve ads to audiences who are shopping for complementary products, like showing ads for cookware products on recipe websites. 

Advocacy organizations can apply the same strategies to reach new prospects and supporters. For example, an organization that wants to improve health outcomes for Black and Hispanic-Latino communities through public health reform can serve awareness ads across ethnic media and general news sites about racial disparities in maternal care or emergency medical care.  

And contextual targeting is not only for display advertisers. Social media platforms are also getting in on the action, especially as they move away from behavioral based targeting. Meta (previously known as Facebook) has been moving away from interest targeting categories and affinity groups that are based on demographic identity in recent years, making contextual targeting even more important to consider when trying to run paid social direct response campaigns. Likewise, Twitter Ads offers keyword targeting which helps advertisers reach audiences based on the topics they are actively talking about and engaging with. 

When trying to get someone to sign up for your email list or donate, it’s important to think through what they are already seeing on their timelines, Reels or Story feeds, and whether or not your ads will be a natural segue from that content. 

So how can advocacy organizations start to make the pivot? 

📊 Start with Available Data
Whether you get started by auditing your existing list to study your audience’s behaviors or by partnering with a research firm like The Analyst Institute for broad insights and benchmarks, using the data that you already have will serve as the foundation to your contextual marketing strategy.

👥 Build Audience Personas
Building profiles of your target audience will help guide your media planning process and allow you to think through which placements and platforms will offer the best return on your ad spend. There are several types of audience personas so find one that works best for your org and get started ASAP.

📁 Segment Your Content
Once you have your personas in place, segment your content based on each persona so that you can increase the relevance of your ads and build a better experience for your prospects.

🧪 Test, Optimize and Re-Test
Nobody gets it 100% right the first time around which is why testing is so crucial. You should be launching campaigns with testing in mind, and constantly optimizing your media mix, your creative and your messaging based on the insights you gain.

To meet this moment, advertisers in the advocacy space will need to focus on contextual targeting as a way to connect with audiences who have a like minded passion for our issues and causes. This approach, along with investments in advertising on news sites where your audience is most likely to be, will help build stronger relationships with underrepresented communities.