It’s a no brainer that if you’re reading an article about the best skincare products for the summer that an ad for a moisturising SPF body lotion placed next to the article should get more traction than an ad for office furniture.
This basic concept of marrying positive relevant content with a pertinent ad message is what we have come to know as a ‘good contextual fit’.
For years, understanding what environment (i.e., context) exists around your online ad, radio spot, or cave painting is a primary factor for its placement. To get the overused cliché out of the way: context is king.
After all, everything is better in the right context: an ice-cold glass of water after a run, chomping down strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, or even a simple compliment after a rough day. Whether it’s a TV ad placed before the latest celebrity reality show or a billboard outside a football stadium, we know intuitively that the right environment will draw in and connect with the right crowd.
Audiences invariably come as a result of relevant content. If you understand the environment, the audience will follow.
The Trouble with True Context
Starting in the mid-90s, the online world exploded with content of all shapes and sizes, creating a fragmented online media space with near-infinite volumes of available inventory. This made it an impossible task to match content to ads in a meaningful manner.
We’ve made small strides through private marketplaces, publisher direct relationships, and whitelists toward accessing the right context. However, we all know from various brand safety scandals, that brand suitability needs to drill all the way down to the content, comments, and inappropriate videos next to your ad on the page—not just the domain, publisher, or even URL.
In this new world of infinite ad spots and in our rush as an industry to access these millions of new eyeballs, the age-old, classic targeting methodology of identifying a ‘good contextual fit’ took a back seat.
It was the cookie that stepped into the driving seat. What started out as a basic transaction state tracker, became a simple, highly efficient online identifier. It offered the insight needed to power a new way to access, understand, and trade these vast audiences at scale.
However, in its simplicity to offer us access to billions of individuals, the industry’s ongoing obsession for granular insights shone a light on some of the behaviours around personal data and its uses.
Finding a Balance
Today, we find ourselves in a changing digital ad targeting landscape around data regulation and tracking restrictions. How we ended up here is debated incessantly, but one of the tactics to help us find our way out can be delivered through redressing the balance between cookies and context.
To accomplish this, we must take a step back and appraise our preconceptions about context and look at the well-trodden past to see the role content can play as a highly effective targeting strategy.
The last five years have seen this technology go far beyond some of the historic roles we view on a classic agency planning framework. Context now offers planning insights, competitor and category share of voice data, the ability to access real-time trending content, delivering both niche and broad audiences, and providing new information from 1st party data mapping.
Here are three critical steps to consider when mapping out your contextual targeting approach:
Evaluate what signals you are accessing
Any good advertising campaign should access a varied and unique set of signals. Both audience signals and contextual understanding offer different routes to the same destination. This includes providing access to audiences inclined to act either based on past behaviour or real-time interests, moments, and mind-sets. Check how you are weighing your focus on these varying signals.
Reappraise the varied roles of context
We know that context powers brand suitability by ensuring you’re accessing the audiences in the most relevant and safe environment. However, it also can play a role in future planning by bringing fresh insights into entirely new topics and events you want to either target for greater reach and resonance or avoid completely.
Not all brand safety solutions are the same
Evaluate how you are currently targeting safely and efficiently. No one wants to be front-page news when it comes to brand safety: Understand the methodology of how your brand and your business reputation is managed by your partners. How is it being tailored for your specific brand needs? Be sure to get under the bonnet, ask for a demo, and see how the technology is working to keep you safe.