The Guardian Launches New Ad Solution for Completely Cookie-Free Audiences

Tim Cross 16 November, 2023 

UK newspaper The Guardian announced a host of new ad solutions at its Upfronts presentation this week, including a new offering geared specifically towards audiences which have opted out of data collection within its GDPR consent mechanism. The Guardian says the new formats are based on what it sees as the three key pillars of its offering for advertisers: scale, influence, and integrity.

The cookie-free offering, called Guardian Light, plays into the last of these three pillars – enabling advertisers to reach audiences while respecting withdrawal of consent.

Looking beyond third-party cookies

While many publishers are trialling ‘cookie-free’ targeting and measurement solutions in preparation for Google’s stripping of third-party cookies from its Chrome browser next year, these tools often aren’t really cookie-free in the strictest sense. Many use first-party cookies, dropped by the publisher itself (which will still be available after third-party cookies are removed). And those which don’t use first-party cookies generally use some sort of identifier to target the user.

These solutions will still work post-2024. But they don’t cater to audiences which opt out of all advertising-related use of their data. Some publishers argue that they don’t need user consent for this kind of data use, claiming ‘legitimate interest’ (a legal stipulation which allows consent-free data collection in some cases). This is a controversial tactic, which has been struck down by various data protection authorities, but continues nonetheless.

The Guardian however says it’s chosen to adhere to a strict interpretation of users’ opt-out, ensuring no personal data is collected or used for advertising purposes in these cases. Until recently, in any cases where users chose the ‘reject all’ option within The Guardian’s cookie banner were simply not shown any digital display ads. But this has made it harder to monetise a large part of the news organisation’s audience (70 percent of online audiences are now cookie-restricted in some way, according to Permutive, thanks to opt outs and automated blocking of cookies within some web browsers).

Guardian Light, which has been tested over the last year, rectifies this. The Guardian says this new tool delivers ads “without using third party or first party cookies, tracking or auction technology”.

The new offering uses context to deliver ads specifically to these audiences – doing so in a way which ensures that contextual data isn’t combined with any other data which could be tied to a specific reader. Guardian Light is based on technology from Opt Out Advertising, a tech business which specialises in completely cookie-free advertising.

“For example, with this new product we can now serve an ad for a food brand alongside our recipes section or deliver a premium takeover featuring native high-impact formats,” said Katherine Le Ruez, The Guardian’s director of digital, in a blog post. “Guardian Light means we can show the right ad to the right reader – even if they have ‘rejected all’, and without needing any personal information about the reader.”

Expanding scale and influence

Alongside Guardian Light, The Guardian announced two other new offerings which play into the ‘scale’ and ‘influence’ components of its offering.

For scale, The Guardian is replacing mid page units (MPUs) on its home page, and the top level hubs for its main site sections (such as sport, culture, and lifestyle). In their place, The Guardian will offer larger ads which run the full width of the page. The Guardian says this format has generated 35 percent higher clickthrough rates than previous standard front page takeovers.

And for influence, The Guardian is running a new ‘interscroller’ format on mobile – an ad which sits within the content of an article, which enlarges to full screen when the reader scrolls onto it. The Guardian says tests of this new format have achieved three percent clickthrough rates, which it says outperforms industry standards.

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About the Author:

Tim Cross is Assistant Editor at VideoWeek.
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