How Advertisers Are Flubbing Contextual Discovery | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

How Advertisers Are Flubbing Contextual Discovery


As advertisers scramble to find addressability signals that will remain amid cookie deprecation, many are turning to contextual data.

The appeal is obvious: Contextual data has been readily available for decades and isn't going anywhere. Many brands already utilize contextual signals for brand safety and suitability strategies. The shrewd have been using contextual over the past four years to get a better understanding of how performance compares to cookies.

While contextual data is widely used, many advertisers are barely scratching the surface of what contextual data can do. That, or they are actually misusing the insights altogether.

Many still see contextual as simply an alternative tactic for targeting ads. In other words, if they can't use audience data, they'll use context instead. This is shortsighted and misses out on much of the utility that comes with leveraging contextual data.

With most programmatic campaigns, advertisers will select an audience segment that aligns with their campaign goals. The brand's research has indicated that there are certain consumer profiles who are likely interested in a product or service, so the advertising needs to reach consumers who fit the profile. There are facts and insights backing up the audience selection.

When brands activate campaigns around contextual, they often resort to a guessing game around which environments to target. Sometimes, this is OK. Brands selling sneakers want to appear within content about the best sneakers. Brands selling golf cleats want to appear in golf content. That's obvious.

It's easy to get too narrow when following this strategy. A sneaker brand that only advertises in stories about sneakers is eliminating other environments where potential customers are spending their time.

In the looming post-cookie world, where brands don't have consistent identifiers, it's critical to understand all the available signals, going beyond basic context. Workflows and targeting strategies need to be built around a fusion of attention, content, sentiment, and relevance.

The challenge is that the ad ecosystem has not invested in contextual discovery systems as much as it has done for audience targeting — even with a four-year lead time before Google began its deprecation plans, that investment is still missing.

Some brands have invested in contextual testing. The important thing is how brands view the results of these campaigns. Running contextual campaigns right now is not about performing an audit but running a discovery campaign. It's imperative that brands understand the correlations between audience and contextual signals.

At this moment, advertisers have access to the best of both worlds. Chrome still supports cookies for 99 percent of its users, so audience targeting is still available for most consumers.

Here's another example: An auto brand looking to reach SUV shoppers may leverage contextual data to target pages about SUVs or family cars. That's a start, but it's only for reaching consumers at the bottom of the funnel.

The brand needs to ask where else its audience devotes its attention online. Is that audience spending time reading about more granular topics, like family planning? Are they actively engaging in content about 401k plans or estate planning?

This is the kind of research that many brands are doing with their audience targeting right now, but they don't know it. Audience targeting naturally follows consumers from page to page and browsing behaviors get backed in. In the shift to contextual, this discovery process is more manual, but it's perhaps even more important. The only way to best leverage context and other surviving signals is to do the leg work right now, with a full toolbox at brands' disposal, to craft the strategies for the future.

Mario Diez is CEO of Peer39.

The views and opinions expressed in Industry Insights are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.