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Living on the edge: Vodafone and life at the frontier of digital advertising

By Ian Darby | journalist

April 25, 2022 | 5 min read

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Vodafone is a giant in the telecommunications industry and has built an immense reputation for innovation across all aspects of its business - especially when it comes to marketing.

gumgum contextual digital advertising

Vodafone reinvigorated their digital advertising with better user insights

To drive better engagement and action with its audiences, Vodafone partnered with GumGum and the GumGum programmatic platform. The relationship, which began in 2020, has pushed Vodafone to the forefront of digital advertising innovation, and resulted in forward-thinking, contextually-served creative.

Standout activity has included targeted advertising creative that delivered the fastest morning of iPhone pre-sales in Vodafone history. The intelligent, contextually-served ads were directed towards consumers who were viewing articles and images related to the new phone's launch. Doing so boosted the brand's share of voice around the launch by 67% year-on-year.

Richard Kanolik, head of programmatic at Vodafone, says that the decision to work with GumGum was part of a more ambitious digital marketing strategy at the business: "Under the bonnet, it's about how we're using digital in terms of its targeting capability. With the deprecation of the third-party cookie we had to think fast, and contextual advertising was exactly what we needed."

The power of contextual

Kanolik says that there was a recognition within the business that the cookie situation was inevitable, and that it was best to tackle it and get on the front foot rather than waiting for it to happen. That's when contextual came to the forefront, and now accounts for between 70-80% of Vodafone's digital marketing spend.

The reasons for this higher level of investment are clear. Kanolik says: "It's about being efficient with what we're doing, being able to target the right audience, spend effectively and innovate. Contextual advertising has come a long way, the technology has improved dramatically and enables us to do much more advanced targeting."

Vodafone's support for contextual advertising is typical of a business that prizes innovation. Kanolik describes how the wider stakeholders embrace sophisticated digital marketing and the importance of a long-term vision because they understand that third-party data isn't as powerful as it once was. Their belief in transparency also drives the investment in contextual advertising, and the relationship with GumGum. "We wanted to shift our strategy away from looking at buying standard formats and GumGum has high-impact, innovative formats," he adds.

Kanolik's observation that contextual advertising has a high impact on audiences is supported by the recent finding that 79% of UK consumers prefer contextually relevant ads over behaviorally-targeted ones, according to a Harris Poll commissioned by GumGum.

Driving brand awareness

Kanolik says that the burgeoning GumGum relationship is based on high levels of support and service: "Our objectives are to measure the brand awareness, brand impact, and the more brand-centric elements of our digital advertising, which we know in the long-term drives profitability."

He adds that since the partnership began, the offer from GumGum has become more sophisticated in terms of boosting Vodafone's creative messages and the accuracy of its measurement. But what's new in terms of how he and his team are working alongside GumGum?

"The technology is just getting better. It’s more precise and more AI-based. Being able to predict which articles are coming up or when a news story breaks and you have a seed audience, can you target and automatically predict where inventory will be? That's where we're heading."

Kanolik adds that GumGum has evolved its offer to provide detailed feedback on attention levels, and that this information helps Vodafone to improve the impact of its creative: "Off the back of this, we get creative feedback that helps to bring the creative team into it more. If that team is continually getting better, and the levels of attention are getting better, then we can really deliver on our advertising."

Bespoke formats

Beyond this, Kanolik says that contextual advertising delivers strong results for the business. He attributes this to the growing sophistication of formats and a "test and learn" approach encouraged by GumGum that involves the evolution of bespoke formats, as opposed to a uniform skin, to deliver the best efficiency for each campaign.

Looking forward, it's clear that innovation will remain central to Vodafone's digital advertising approach. While Kanolik is proactive in addressing a future without third-party cookies, he's equally determined to drive creative standards in the brand's programmatic advertising. He says: "Really making the creative work for us in digital is important. It’s not an issue that's often tackled but it's so important to get your creative right. And we're now in such a strong place in terms of measurement and feedback from GumGum and other partners that we can tackle that head on."

This emphasis on creative innovation, together with a progressive approach to addressing the obstacles ahead, are typical of Vodafone's pioneering spirit fueled by strong business partnerships.

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GumGum is a contextual-first global advertising technology company that captures people’s attention, without the use of personal data. We believe that a digital advertising ecosystem based on understanding a consumer’s active frame of mind rather than behavior builds a more equitable and safer future for consumers, publishers and advertisers alike. Founded in 2008, GumGum is headquartered in Santa Monica, California and operates in 19 markets worldwide. For more information, visit

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