Post GDPR, Targeting Will Shift From Consent To Context

We can’t ignore it anymore. With the enforcement of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) looming large, the industry must tear its focus away from consent and face the real possibility that once consumers gain control over their data, they might decide against sharing it.

Of course, consent matters — since the GDPR was approved, industry rhetoric has revolved around its importance and embracing the need to request data access. But the trouble is: permission isn't guaranteed. In fact, a third of Brits already plan to use their right to be forgotten when the GDPR goes live. So there is a chance that advertisers will soon lack much of the data required to deliver personalised messages and impactful online experiences.

In addition, advertisers will be forced to carefully select third-party data providers or profilers to be compliant with the GDPR. Clearly, addressing this issue is an urgent priority to ensure the survival of digital advertising in a post-GDPR world. The question, however, is what can be done to fill potential data gaps?

First of all, let's explore the issue in a little more detail. 

Mission impossible: targeting without data 

It has been consistently proven that consumers engage more with tailored ads. Studies show nearly two in five (39%) prefer targeted marketing, and millennials are especially keen, with 29% partial to ads featuring bespoke product selections, and 73% willing to interact with ads that consider their buying preferences. Consequently, personalisation is vital to advertising success — and by extension, so is data about individual activity, likes, and dislikes.

This is where the GDPR poses a challenge. The regulation states that companies must meet one of six lawful bases to process data, and generally speaking, the purposes applicable to digital advertising are consent and legitimate interest. But, because there are some restrictions on legitimate interest — businesses must demonstrate that processing is necessary and adequately weighed against the interests or rights of individuals — consent will be the primary route.

As a result, it is possible that marketers will not be able to collect large swaths of critical targeting data if consumers refuse to grant consent. Profile data obtained from third-party controllers could be limited, as many of them do not have direct relationships with consumers, which makes requesting fresh data access and verifying their grounds for retaining existing insight difficult. Larger brands will rely more and more on first-party data and consent with individual consumers.

Yet this doesn't mean the end of customised ads. Rather, marketers need to find a different means of gathering information that helps ensure messaging is relevant. And, fortunately, there is an effective solution: unlocking the contextual insights offered by URLs.

Could URL data answer GDPR prayers?

In short, yes. But to understand why, we will need to define what makes URL data GDPR-safe and how it can fuel relevant messaging. Firstly, data collated from URLs doesn't cover details that can be used to personally identify consumers — such as name, gender, email address, past purchases  — it contains information about specific pages; content subject matter, date, and time. Hence, it can be used to tailor digital ads without the need to gain consent from individuals or fear of contravening GDPR rules.

This brings us neatly to point number two: how it drives impactful advertising. Put simply, data about what is on a page tells marketers a lot about the audience it is likely to attract. For instance, if a page includes an article about sports team managers and is being accessed during the FA Cup final, this would indicate visitors are likely to have a passionate interest in football and be receptive to ads featuring associated products, such as Sky Sports TV offers.

And that's not all. By harnessing smart tools that conduct in-depth semantic analysis of site pages at URL-level, marketers can even gain insight into the sentiment content inspires and target messaging accordingly. Using techniques such as natural language processing (NLP) such platforms read content exactly as the human brain does; picking up subtle differences between the meaning of different words and the feelings they are likely to elicit. Armed with this data, marketers can serve contextually relevant and emotionally powerful ads that truly resonate with individuals, but don't draw on their personal data to do so.

The GDPR will create many positive changes, including a stronger emphasis on transparency, more control for consumers, and more secure data usage. But it's also imperative to acknowledge that there will be issues — and none greater than the potential for pools of audience insight to shrink dramatically. Thus, ad targeting will need to adapt in the post-GDPR world. Instead of relying solely on insight about individuals to inform messaging, marketers should also turn their attention to the content that entices them. By leveraging context-based approaches that make the most of URL data, they find that not only is it possible to make ads work by tying in with content alone, but sometimes it can even be better.


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