Contextual advertising could replace and improve on behavioural targeting

Contextual advertising
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Advertisers on the hunt for post-cookie targeting alternatives are looking closely at contextual advertising solutions that select and serve ads according to content relevancy. Publishers developing first-party data around audience preferences are in a strong position to create targeting solutions that serve up consumer interest and intent.

  • Within contextual advertising systems, advertising media is targeted using the content of the web page the ad will appear on. The system scans site text for targeted keywords and returns ads to the web page based on those keywords. Ads for running shoes appear on an article about running, served based on keyword prevalence or general site topics.
  • The contextual advertising market is forecast to grow to $297.68 billion by 2023, a CAGR of almost 20% between 2018 and 2023. Seen increasingly as an alternative to third-party cookie targeting, contextual also has the advantage of aligning more directly with consumer interest and intent rather than past behaviours.
  • Emilia Kirk, Head of Growth at contextual ad firm Seedtag, says contextual advertising is a ‘gamechanger’. She says it creates ‘positive connotations’ to, “build a tighter bond between the ad and the placement, making sure that everywhere an ad appears is relevant to its audience with the highest level of brand safety.
Contextual data
  • A broad contextual approach is already very strong in publisher ecommerce. Expert recommendations and review content brings potential customers from search and sets up the purchase. But beyond the direct affiliate revenue publishers are familiar with, this data has a secondary value as contextual-based insight.
  • Writing on WNIP, Mario Diez, CEO of ad data provider Peer39, explained: “If future buyers spend a lot of time comparing battery life… engaging with content on warranties, or looking up camera resolution, those are all valuable insights. A publisher can create first-party contextual segmentation and targeting profiles to be applied on their advertiser’s reach extension programs.”
  • The New York Times made as much from five contextual-based advertising products in the first half of 2020 as it did through all of 2019, according to Senior VP of ad innovation, Allison Murphy. It traded around the same number of impressions through contextual targeting as through audience-based targeting in the first half of 2020.
Contextual AI

In the UK, The Independent and The Evening Standard newspapers recently licensed regional publisher Reach’s AI-powered advertising tool. The publications are using the system’s contextual ad targeting capabilities to support brand safety.

  • Mantis, which Reach created in 2019 with IBM, reads a webpage to identify the topics it contains and the tone it is written in. From this scan, it flags content that is unsuitable for advertising. The system improves on straight keyword scans, distinguishing a ‘knife attack’ from an ‘attack on goal’.
  • Reach said initial tests using Mantis on The Independent had seen a 40% increase in available ad impressions compared to other market leaders. “Never-ending block lists not only disrupt ad revenue for publishers but they keep brands from making the most of quality news content,” said Emily Britton, head of publisher development at Mantis.
  • The Independent and Evening Standard sales director, Adib Razzaq, said: “As the industry prepares for the end of third-party cookies, advertisers will be increasingly reliant on contextual targeting. This is just one of the ways we’re making sure we’re a step ahead of the changes.”

Cookies or not, the demand for targeted marketing is here to stay. As contextual advertising moves beyond simple keyword recognition to take on the power of machine learning and first-party data integration, expect to hear more about it as a third-party cookie replacement.

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