Contextual Targeting Is Leagues Beyond its Legacy, Here’s Why

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Article Takeaways:

  • In 2020, we will see the sophistication of modern contextual targeting platforms that go far beyond protection and into brand building.
  • Brands need to be thinking about a walled garden content strategy.
  • Contextual strategies are not just a niche play.

As audience targeting was becoming all the rage a few years back, a good friend said “who cares about context when you target audiences. That’s like 90s era tech.” Now as the next decade dawns, “old school” context is being heralded as the new hope.

There’s good reason why we’re leaning so heavily into context; it provides many of the benefits of PII based audience tactics without any of the intrusive and creepy aftertaste. I will, however, say that the future will look a lot different than its past. Context is evolving, both in the science behind it as well as the productization. Now with the recent announcement that Google will sunset Chrome browser audience tracking in two years, the stakes for the industry couldn’t be higher.

Even before the announcement, our industry was renewing its central focus on contextual targeting as a result of declines in cookie usage on browsers alongside privacy-centric legislation like CCPA and GDPR.  Ongoing legislation will continue to diminish the centrality of audience targeting in the programmatic arena.  Consequently, the walled gardens grow even more dominant. These factors in concert have created a groundswell for the next generation of context.

Previously, context had been relegated to a niche tactic to help brands stay away from unsavory content via blunt tools, like keyword blacklists. In 2020, we will see the sophistication of modern contextual targeting platforms that go far beyond protection and into brand building. This evolution will be fueled by several major trends– the proliferation of video context, the growth of audiences on video social media, and the promise of contextual data as a reach builder.

Video Context Will Be The Next Frontier

Traditionally, contextual targeting has been focused on display advertising. This made sense for the legacy web as 5-10 years ago, display was the dominant digital ad platform and the first channel to be traded at scale using programmatic auctions.

Flash forward to 2020, things have changed. Consumer time spent and digital budgets are increasingly shifting to video. While it may seem obvious, the growth is staggering: this year, 82% of global Internet traffic is video, according to Cisco. It’s the biggest opportunity, and also the hardest to properly contextualize. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a video is worth millions.

For example, a highly engaged, popular YouTube video featuring advice for new-age health and wellness tips may be great for some brands, but a poor contextual match for a pharma brand with competing interests.  You can see why legacy keyword methodology lacks this level of nuance for video — simple labels don’t effectively capture the range of individual brand preferences within multi-faceted sight, sound, and motion. Brands that lean in on their specific definitions of context in video will be in the driver’s seat going forward.

Brands Must Own a Walled Garden Context Strategy

Brands need a context strategy for where their audience is — and more than ever, those audiences live on YouTube and Facebook. The two platforms offer incredible opportunities for marketers looking for scaled reach in video, but also pose challenges given the sheer scale of content available to advertise against. YouTube has over 500 hours of content uploaded every 60 seconds, and Facebook’s recent advancements in dynamic whitelists for in-stream video signal their arrival as a serious video alternative to television. For marketers, brands should apply their unique contextual data across the walled gardens to maximize their investments on both Facebook and YouTube. A brand that prefers to be aligned with a specific type of health and wellness context will have the same preference, regardless of the platform. Rather than retrofit their strategies into each walled garden, brands can leverage contextual data to make the walled gardens work for them.

Contextual Targeting Will Be a Reach Builder

The easiest trap for brands looking at contextual strategies is to fall into employing it as a niche play.

For example, in a legacy context, a home, and garden-focused brand may focus its strategy on endemic gardening related webpages. The truth is, by expanding brands’ definitions of Context, brands can not only increase effectiveness but also increase reach in privacy-compliant ways. In a recent study by MAGNA and the IPG Media Lab,  82% of consumers reached via context were in-market for products, far outpacing traditional demo or keyword targeting. As browsers like Chrome are ditching cookies, thereby limiting third-party audience tracking, there’s a need for new identity-less data to be applied to offset the decline in reach from traditional DMPs and data marketplaces. As a result, contextual data will need to be creatively leveraged beyond endemic content to build a holistic view of consumer interests, with context as the signal vs. a cookie. Brands that deploy this contextual data on the largest platforms in the world will be able to drive reach in relevant contextual environments.

Context is no longer a fringe tactic; context is now an emerging data growth discipline that solves many of the problems currently facing marketers.  The technology and methodology have advanced to meet the requirements of the programmatic age.  Brands have no reason to wait.  The Age of Context is here and now.

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