Back to basics: Context still rules the roost

Why should you read this article?
Because both advertisers and publishers should be aware about the comeback of context in digital advertising following GDPR and other industry changes.

It would be hard to have missed the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation(GDPR) earlier this year and the discussions on the perceived limitations in the digital sector, both in and out of the European Union. The immediate aftermath, not only saw an overall decline in spend and impressions but also the indictment of two global industry heavyweights, Facebook and Google, on data violation charges just hours after the law came into effect. Looking past the squeeze and backlashes, one good thing (among others), is the massive overhaul seen in the targeting landscape as questions have arisen around audience-based targeting. Consequently, Facebook eliminated its ad targeting tool and Google limited marketers from using its DoubleClick ID logs. In a world where people are thinking more about their own privacy, switching on ad blockers and exercising their power to give consent (especially since May), an original form of targeted marketing that once ruled the roost, is making an unprecedented comeback – and, is here to stay.

The Contextual Comeback

Long before the internet days, zooming back in time to the Mad Men era, consumers were already being targeted either demographically or contextually. Marketers had to understand the audience profiles of a particular publication or program in order for ads to be placed in an appropriate context. This meant that sporting goods ads went in the sports section, tourism ads went in the travel section, luxury apparel ads went in the fashion section etc. It was simple and straightforward. However, this changed in the digital era with the rise of behavioral targeting which promised to deliver relevant messages from advertisers to consumers based on their web consumption habits. This eventually gave rise to privacy concerns and exposed marketers to myriad potential legal pitfalls, especially with the GDPR shining the spotlight on targeting and tracking practices.

With audience-based targeting, there was a tendency for the industry to focus on the ‘Who’ and the ‘Why’ rather than the ‘Where’. Already the industry is seeing a trend of brands once again considering the importance of context itself and embracing contextual targeting as a result, sometimes on its own or in combination with audience targeting in order to reach scale and efficiency. This allows brands to connect with users where relevant for them while respecting their privacy in a spontaneous manner.

According to Céline Crepeau, Product & Solutions Specialist from programmatic platform, Tradelab, “contextual targeting may be a great opportunity to attract the user’s attention on-the-spot when the brand’s message might be seen as an additional source of information.”

User privacy is another point to consider with contextual targeting. “We can derive valuable information about the user without having to go through their browsing history. It gives us more accurate placements to display our ads,” said Charlotte Fouquet, Chief Operating Officer at French trading desk, Zebestof.

Re-engaging with context: Brand safety & trust

GDPR and ad-blockers aside, let’s not forget fake news, domain spoofing and online ad fraud as a whole. It has been a difficult time so far for advertisers, but those concerned about brand safety are increasingly protecting their brands by using contextual targeting.

According to a recently published report by industry intelligence solution, Reportbuyer, the global contextual advertising market size is expected to reach $328.1 billion by 2024, rising at a market growth of 17.4% CAGR during the forecast period.

“Marketers are seeing significantly higher click and conversion rates through thoughtful contextual targeting,” explained Benoit Sanchez, who leads the Data team at publisher tech platform, Smart.

“Contextual advertising, enabled by Semantics, aims to analyze web pages to properly understand and classify the meaning of the page based on the inferred semantic relationships in the content generated by the viewer and the publisher. This ensures that the most appropriate and brand-safe ads are being displayed to the viewer,” added Sanchez.

Besides displaying appropriate content, contextual advertising helps in reinforcing confidence in the brand. “The association with positive and relevant content can only enhance the user’s appreciation for the brand. We are moving from the brand safety approach based on context exclusion, and are going towards building brand affinity based on context inclusion. This strategy will fully serve the advertisers’ objectives, as it helps to highlight the brand’s values and build overall trust and confidence,” said Crepeau.

Contextual irony hits home

As reported on The Drum, one company became the talk of town at this year’s DMEXCO. Pornhub debuted at the tradeshow by targeting advertisers with suggestive images of half-peeled bananas and hot dogs throughout all the conference restrooms accompanied with the strapline: “Think long term-growth.” Strategically placed and needless to say, contextually relevant, the irony couldn’t have hit closer to home, in a context (sorry no pun intended here) where brand safety continues to be a pervasive industry concern.

Clearly, contextual advertising will not be fading out of the marketers’ arsenal any time soon. And thankfully so. As the age-old dictum goes, “You shall know a word by the company it keeps!”

Check out Smart’s latest video on Context which addresses how UX and content are related and why  publishers have started focusing more on context to improve their monetization strategies


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