In a Post-GDPR World, Contextual Targeting is Reborn

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Contextual targeting has been around since before the early days of the Internet but declined in popularity as marketers turned to audience-based advertising for personalized and highly-targeted campaigns, and of course, retargeting. Today, thanks to increasing regulation on data privacy, including GDPR, Apple’s cookie blocking, and brand safety concerns, contextual targeting is experiencing a rebirth. Its future is promising, with new technologies improving its capabilities and more advertisers embracing it as a strategy. But even as it continues to pick up speed, it’s important for marketers to understand why, when and how to utilize contextual targeting for advertising efforts.

While contextual targeting has always played a big role for decision makers, its value decreased in recent years as buyers turned their focus to personalized, audience-based ad targeting, which allowed for retargeting and measuring performance via last-click/last view attribution models. But with uncertainty surrounding the impact of GDPR and how strictly it will be enforced, many ad buyers are hedging against the high risk. Suddenly, contextual targeting, where individuals are targeted by ads based on the content they’re viewing, is more appealing to agencies. But the overall success of contextual will be heavily dependent on a better market understanding on how to measure lift. In an age wracked with brand safety and data scandals, getting the right message to the right audience at the right time without being invasive is key for everyone.

In an age wracked with brand safety and data scandals, getting the right message to the right audience at the right time without being invasive is key for everyone.

Rather than relying on specific details, including demographics, geolocation, and browsing history, contextually-targeted ads utilize timeliness and creativity to increase brand awareness. The biggest complaint for all marketers is that their content isn’t reaching the right customers at the right time, resulting in email campaigns with low click-through rates or unshared social posts. By straying away from audience-based targeting, marketers can focus on targeted traffic, specific keywords, along with personalized and relevant messages based on the content on the screen, leading to a higher reception rate without bombarding the viewer.

In a less-invasive and data-driven way, contextual targeting can make it easier to engage with your target audience. By ensuring your ad is compatible with the content on screen, website visitors can find links and ads useful and relevant to what they are looking for.

As the internet notes, audience-based targeting is “intrusive, creepy and obnoxious.” Constant pop-ups interrupt the browsing experience, driving individuals to download ad blockers. Creepy retargeting efforts stalk consumers almost immediately and everywhere.  Scrolling through news articles filled with ads can frustrate almost any audience, but often, consumers don’t want to block ads completely.  They would rather filter out the ones that are irrelevant or annoying, making the case for contextual advertising more compelling. Simply associating the right message with the appropriate content is a big step in making consumers feel comfortable with the way they are being targeted.

But just associating keywords with ads isn’t enough for today’s consumers. Marketers need to be utilizing AI and natural language processing techniques to deliver on the promise of higher engagement, while also distinguishing between homonyms like apple (the fruit) and Apple (the company). It’s important to understand the context behind the content an individual is reading or watching, and to ensure ads are appropriate and relevant. Hence, this is where AI and NLP can help. By utilizing both, marketers can better understand consumers and more impactfully connect them to the content, creating an enjoyable experience.

But all of this isn’t to say that marketers won’t struggle to expand their digital advertising arsenal to place a greater priority on contextual targeting. We’re likely to see a significant change in the way that brands and their agencies are engaging with their audiences. It’ll be harder to create personalized content that utilizes data, but marketers instead must focus on the notion that “content is key” and revert back in many cases to a pre-audience-based advertising era. Contextual signals can provide useful insights around the frame of mind of the audience, including receptiveness to the ad or product. For publishers, this can lead to a re-evaluation of quality, considering brand safety standards, and a focus on driving engagement. For marketers, brands and publishers, there’s no better time than now to focus on relevant and creative messaging that compliments and leverages the context.

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