The third-party cookie has (almost) had its day. Which begs the pretty big question – what will replace it?

Since it was first introduced a quarter of a century ago, the simple cookie has helped online advertising capture more than half the world’s ad spend. But increased concern around privacy – as well as the dominance of mobile apps – is bringing the era of the third-party cookie to an end. Firefox and Safari already block them, while Chrome will do so by 2023.

But what about the people who spent that $325bn on online advertising in 2019? No third-party cookies mean no targeting, no personalization. And it also means much less reason to buy online advertising, right? Well, not necessarily. For the past few years, there has been a resurgence of interest in contextual approaches that would allow advertising to be targeted without raising hackles about privacy.

Learning From The Past

Contextual is the oldest form of ad targeting. It was the staple of all targeted display advertising before the advent of the internet and there have been frequent attempts to update it for digital media. Silverbullet is launching 4D, which it claims is a true omni-channel contextual targeting and brand suitability platform for digital media planning and buying.

According to Umberto Torrielli, Silverbullet’s Chief Strategy Officer, 4D allows advertisers and agencies to define the perfect context for their ads to appear against, and to apply that context across all addressable channels. At launch, it works across display, video and mobile, while programmatic audio, addressable TV and in-app are next on the roadmap.

To address contextual video, the team has developed an advanced computer vision-based solution that can identify objects, logos and nudity among various signals, allowing the platform to seamlessly offer sophisticated targeting and brand protection on this premium inventory.

“The philosophy behind 4D is that, as an advertiser, you shouldn’t have to worry about what medium a consumer will be seeing your brand in,” says Torrielli. “If they’re reading an article or if they’re watching a video, you shouldn’t have to worry about setting different rules and figuring out what platforms to set those rules in. Rather, you should be able to just set that brand suitability context once.”

Brand suitability isn’t just about the content you want to appear next to, of course. It’s also about the content you want to avoid. 4D’s contextual understanding allows brands to set safety rules, but also means the platform can suggest contexts where a brand may not want to appear.

Independent And Open

Torrielli says there are three further unique features of 4D. Firstly, it is an independent platform that’s able to ingest data from any other platform to form the basis of its contextual insights. “We’re taking first-party data from places like DMPs, CDPs and ad servers, and converting that data into actionable contextual insights that can be activated programmatically.”

Next, it has been built with an open architecture framework, so can form the basis of an adtech ecosystem as well as supporting many more media use-cases than just online advertising. And lastly, it has a powerful analytics capability.

“We have a cookie-less tag that can be deployed in media,” explains Torrielli. “That allows you to understand deterministically where ad impressions were seen from a contextual perspective, and you can see a breakdown of how the different contexts performed against each other and against the average.

“That’s really important, because it means you can plan your next campaign more accurately. But what’s even more interesting is that when you have our tag in a campaign, you can optimise that campaign in real time.”

New Dimensions In Brand Security

Another benefit of 4D’s open architecture is that it allows Silverbullet to invite third-party technologies and other partners into the ecosystem to provide extra levels of intelligence (or “dimensions”) that can inform the execution of ad campaigns.

One example is Factmata, a UK-based company that uses AI to vet content for political bias, hate speech, clickbait and other hard to detect signals. “Factmata’s core mission is to help make the internet a better place, and our clients can use it through 4D,” says Torrielli.

“Brands today need to feel they’re not just being protected against the usual terrorism, obscenities, adult content and so on, but that they’re protected against anything that has to do with racism, fake news, political bias. These things are super-prevalent and we’re the only platform today that can safeguard against them.”

Access All Areas

Torrielli is keen to stress the variety of ways in which advertisers can access the 4D platform, and how the technology is available to brands of all sizes. He expects the most common approach to be through agencies having the technology in place. However, for in-house use, he says the independent, open architecture approach is intended to allow 4D to ingest first-party data from whichever platform a company has in place, from DMPs and CDPs to DSPs and ad servers. Users can create bespoke contexts by entering keywords and building topics, or they can choose a context already curated by Silverbullet and apply it to their campaigns.

“If you’re doing any form of display advertising or video advertising on the open web and leveraging a DSP, then you’re a candidate for 4D,” concludes Torrielli.