Contextual 2.0: blazing a human trail forward for digital advertising

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Contextual 2.0: blazing a human trail forward for digital advertising

Kicking off The Drum’s Digital Advertising Focus, we lay the groundwork on what went wrong with digital advertising and explore the true innovation frontier of contextual advertising 2.0.

Invasive, annoying, irrelevant – ask consumers how they feel about digital advertising right now and it’s likely you’ll be met with these words. A recent Harris Poll commissioned by GumGum found that over a third (38%) of consumers feel ‘creeped out’ when brands use technology to track their internet browsing habits to deliver advertising that is relevant to them, and 31% feel ‘violated’.

If the goal of advertising is to deliver relevant and engaging ads that capture consumers’ attention and inspire them to act, then as an industry we have over complicated on that goal by zeroing in on tracking people’s every move. There’s got to be a more human way forward.

With the death of third-party cookies looming, we have an opportunity to rebuild the digital advertising landscape for the benefit of all parties – advertisers, agencies, adtech providers, publishers and, most importantly, the consumer.

“Advertising has to be a bit intrusive so that you get attention – but it does need to be in a sympathetic way in the right format, in the right place,” says Sophie Wooller, director of digital transformation at Croud.

The evolution of contextual intelligence

Amid ongoing privacy and identity challenges, contextual advertising is making a comeback. Of course, it’s nothing new; it’s the oldest form of targeting known to media. Even before the dawn of the internet, advertisers adopted contextual targeting wanting to position themselves next to relevant editorial content in magazines and newspapers.

Then along came the internet and the buzz and excitement of that first-ever banner ad from AT&T on in 1994 (clicked on by 44% of the people who saw it) soon faded as consumers became more conscious about how their data was being shared.

Fast forward to today and web3 puts consumer data back in the hands of the customer. Contextual intelligence is a future-proof solution that doesn’t require the use of any personal data. This places it in a strong position to stand the test of time while data privacy regulations grow.

The problem is that many contextual solutions today haven’t evolved with the times. Contextual 1.0 still sees digital environments in black and white – focusing on keyword-based ad placement. This ‘blind spot’ lacks the ability to truly understand the full interplay of image, video, and text on a webpage, throwing up all sorts of issues for advertisers in terms of brand safety and suitability. The internet today is much more dynamic, with the consumption rate of video, imagery and audio growing considerably.

Contextual 2.0 – from black and white to technicolor

The difference with Contextual 2.0 is that it sees digital environments in technicolor, giving advertisers more opportunities to serve dynamic, attention-grabbing, and relevant ads.

“Contextual has come an awful long way,” says Peter Wallace, senior vice-president, ad sales EMEA at GumGum. “Now, we’re talking about content level analysis; natural language processing to understand the sentiment of text, computer vision to understand what’s within imagery, and it’s all intrinsically privacy compliant.”

What’s more, it’s scalable in that it can be applied across a multitude of established and emerging platforms, including CTV, OTT and even the metaverse. Arguably, Wallace says, it has the potential to become a “ubiquitous targeting methodology for lots of different media channels.”

Meeting consumers in the right mindset

Consumers today aren’t just interacting with content on one channel – their online journeys switch between mobile, laptop, TV and more. No two days or moments look alike. So instead of leveraging consumer behaviors from 30 days ago, advertisers should meet them in their current mindset.

“The capabilities of contextual are about identifying micro moments for users – that sporadic consumption that a lot of people’s behavior leads to,” explains Wallace. “Context is a gateway in to identify that micro moment for that user.”

The GumGum study found that most 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 and over three quarters (79%) are more comfortable with that approach.

By embracing the combination of context, creative and attention – and not personal data targeting – advertisers have an opportunity to find a better and more human way forward; one that is based on a foundation of respect. It’s time to put that creepy past behind us and embrace contextual 2.0.