How Dotdash Meredith Helps Advertisers Convert From Cookies to Contextual

D/Cipher, launched in May, knits together insights from its 48 brands and is used in more than 30% of direct buys

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The media company Dotdash Meredith is now using its contextual solution, D/Cipher, in more than 30% of its direct ad buys less than one year after launching the product, according to CEO Neil Vogel.

For those advertisers not yet willing to quit third-party cookies, Dotdash Meredith lets the advertiser see it outperform other solutions.

The publisher asks an advertiser to set aside 15% to 20% of a given campaign to run using D/Cipher, and if it fails to outperform the benchmark, the media company will rerun the campaign. So far, it has not had to make good on any guarantees, according to Vogel.

In one case study involving a skincare brand, D/Cipher drove 3.8 times more lift and four times the incremental sales of the parallel cookie-targeted campaign, according to the publisher. 

“We always knew intent targeting would outperform cookies,” Vogel said. “The world is finally moving to us.”

Publishers and marketers have been forced by the looming depreciation of third-party cookies to experiment with, and ultimately adopt, a variety of solutions to serve relevant ads and measure their efficacy in a privacy-compliant fashion. 

In response, many publishers have scrambled to erect registration walls or gather first-party data from users, as well as to experiment with solutions from Google’s Privacy Sandbox or vendors like The Trade Desk or LiveRamp. 

Contextual solutions have typically outperformed cookie- or ID-based targeting in terms of reaching the right person, but they have often lacked the sufficient scale—and the ability to deploy across multiple separate environments—to make them worthwhile for marketers, according to an advertising technology consultant. 

Additionally, some ad-tech vendors offer contextual solutions by scraping publishers’ websites, making it challenging for publishers to convince advertisers to embrace their offerings. And a significant erosion to search-based traffic, such as the kind that generative artificial intelligence portends, also poses a significant risk to the model.

How D/Cipher enhances contextual targeting

D/Cipher, which blends the high-intent nature of Dotdash Meredith content with machine learning, lets advertisers serve relevant ads to people without third-party cookies, alternative identifiers or registration walls.

When combined with the massive reach of Dotdash Meredith, which has 48 brands reaching more than 30 million people per day, the technology represents one of the most scaled contextual solutions on the open web, the publisher claims. 

“If you are trying to figure out how to get down your kid’s fever at 2:00 in the morning, we know everything there is to know about you,” Vogel said. “Your name, address and what movie you searched two days ago don’t matter. We know with certainty that you are being a parent right now.”

By knitting together insights from across its portfolio of brands, Dotdash Meredith can offer both sufficient scale and a layer of cross-visitation context that competing solutions are unable to replicate, according to the consultant.

“Dotdash Meredith has made contextual such a strong component of [its] direct offering that instead of using it as a tool, [it is] now wielding it as a feature,” the consultant said. “Most publishers lack the scale or depth to offer the nuance they can.”

With D/Cipher, Dotdash Meredith has married the common sense of contextual targeting with the insights unlocked from inputting billions of data points into its machine-learning technology. This has let it unearth behavioral patterns that go beyond surface-level context, said chief innovation officer Jon Roberts.

For instance, serving ads for stain-removal products alongside barbecue recipes or luxury cruises alongside mutual-fund explainers both perform incredibly well.

Buying D/Cipher based on performance

Since debuting the technology in May, Dotdash Meredith has used it, to some degree, in more than 152 direct advertising deals, according to the publisher. The media company will still transact using any method an advertiser prefers.

So far, only a handful of clients has executed a campaign exclusively using D/Cipher, but Vogel attributed that primarily to the short amount of time the technology has been in the market.

Currently, D/Cipher is still only available through direct transactions and private marketplaces. But the technology will be available through open-exchange programmatic channels in the next 90 days, according to Vogel.

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