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Contextual advertising – giving publishers what they need

By Aimee Pearcy, Journalist

May 3, 2022 | 7 min read

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Contextual advertising is making a comeback which, from a publisher perspective, means that the industry has come full circle. But what do publishers need from their partners to improve the digital advertising dynamic for everyone? We spoke to leaders at Future, Raconteur, News UK, Jungle Creations and LGBTQ+ news website PinkNews to find out.

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How can publishers make the most of contextual advertising to deliver business results and great user experiences?

Contextual advertising is the oldest form of ad targeting in the media. In the age of print magazines, it was pretty much all publishers had to rely on. But as publishers moved online and technology progressed, the landscape quickly began to change. Instead of displaying ads based on what someone was looking at, many platforms switched to displaying ads based on browsing history, searches, links clicked, and purchases.

Since Google has announced its plans to eradicate third-party cookies by 2023, it has become clear that contextual advertising will be making a comeback. “The industry from a publisher’s point of view has come full circle,” says Dave Randall, commercial director at Future.

This has the opportunity to improve the advertising dynamic for everyone – consumers, publishers, and also advertisers. “Contextual ads are better for publishers because they are able to serve ads to their customers that are relevant,” says Nat Poulter, co-chief executive officer of Jungle Creations. “They are better for advertisers because they are gaining access to a relevant audience. And contextual ads are better for the consumer because they are often being introduced to something new that interests them.”

But to reap the true benefits of contextual advertising, we must first understand what the key participants really want and need from their digital advertising partners.

The key to successful contextual advertising

There is an inherent understanding between publishers and audiences that gaining access to content requires a trade-off. Despite this, most consumers feel that digital ads that leverage their personal data are creepy, invasive, and annoying – which isn’t great news for advertisers plowing in money.

This was confirmed in a recent Harris Poll commissioned by GumGum, which revealed that over three quarters of UK consumers (79%) are more comfortable seeing online ads that are relevant to the web page they appear within than ads that are based on their browsing history.

Publishers have an important role in improving the perception of online advertising by addressing these concerns. According to Raconteur editor Sarah Vizard, the crux of contextual advertising is hitting home with the message quickly and succinctly, and in the right moment.

“No matter what the medium, the key to successful advertising is context. In the B2B arena this is turbocharged as brands struggle to get through to and influence a hard-to-reach, time-poor senior business audience,” she explains.

If publishers fail to grasp this, their brands – and revenue – will suffer. Vizard says, “too many publishers make the mistake of looking to cut costs when revenue is improved by better serving the audiences. Cut corners and the audience won’t engage or stick with the publisher in the long term.”

What publishers want from digital advertising partners

Most publishers now understand the need for targeted, audience-driven campaigns. To keep up with the constant changes in the industry, they must update and refine their strategy constantly.

Today, there are endless different ways to run a campaign across multiple mediums – but sometimes, publishers want the opportunity to customize things further. “Publishers want interoperability,” says Future’s Randall. “Instead of simply picking things off-the-shelf, they want to be able to work with partners to create bespoke services based upon the campaigns they are running and the audiences they are looking to target.”

Meanwhile, for LGBTQ+ news website PinkNews, it is important that digital advertising partners make a more consistent effort to target marginalized consumers.

“Digital advertising is of vital importance to the media landscape but we still see it falling behind when it comes to publications targeting marginalized groups including the LGBTQ+ community,” explains Benjamin Cohen, chief executive at PinkNews.

“We would love to see more diverse and inclusive ad campaigns being consistently booked throughout the year, not just around Pride months and/or similar events,” he adds. “LGBTQ+ consumers exist throughout the year, not just at Pride. As such, we feel like advertisers need to understand that LGBTQ+ people are also part of many other demographics, and not just targeted through a single viewpoint of LGBTQ+ related topics and markets.”

As it stands, huge audiences are potentially being left underrepresented by digital campaigns. Contextual advertising, then, in theory, should help remedy this, tailoring ads to the individual and their interests across cultures, disabilities, ethnic lines, and age groups.

Contextual advertising can benefit all parties

For consumers, it appears that the return to contextual advertising is a welcome one. The GumGum study reveals that a majority of UK consumers (65%) would be more tempted to buy a product from an online ad that is relevant to the web page they are looking at in that moment, compared to only 35% who say they’d be tempted to purchase from an online ad based on content they have viewed in the last 30 days.

Going forward, it is clear that contextual advertising will play a major role in allowing publishers to monetize their content.

“Knowing our audience is a top priority for us, and serving contextual ads helps build an online experience that is tailored around the content the user is reading at any one time, rather than ads based on cookies and search history; which can sometimes feel intrusive and might not be relevant at the time the ads are shown,” says Cohen.

Unlike behavioral advertising, which generally requires advertisers to know exactly who they’re targeting, contextual advertising gives brands the opportunity to find a completely different set of consumers. Ben Walmsley, commercial director of publishing at News UK, praises contextual advertising for being “precisely imprecise”.

He says: “You find like-minded customers rather than those of the same demography with preferences and opinions that are a mismatch for your offering. By embracing the power of emotion in advertising targeting, brands can shift from demographics towards metrics that more closely represent real consumer behavior.”

By working together to understand their audience and provide ads in the right context, publishers and advertisers can create a unique – and more comfortable – experience for their audience that keeps them engaged, and creates value on both sides.

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