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Contextual Targeting: The Answer to Brand-Safe Ad Environments?

Tim Beveridge

Tim from Silverbullet explores contextual targeting in the Adtech space & dissects the role of the same in the life of a savvy digital marketer & advertiser.

Today’s increasing privacy concerns, coupled with the cookie’s demise, means marketers now need to deliver more personalised campaigns, in real-time and at scale 
More importantly, they need to demonstrate empathy and present their messaging in brand-safe environments. This is where the power of contextual targeting comes into play.

Contextual targeting is a way to target relevant audiences using keywords and topics derived from the content around ad inventory, that doesn’t require a cookie or another identifier. Here are some of the key benefits of contextual targeting, and why it’s a must-have for any savvy digital marketer or advertiser.

1. Can provide context beyond text

Truly effective contextual targeting engines are able to process all types of content that exist on a page, to give true 360-degree guidance as to the page’s semantic meaning.

Advanced contextual targeting analyses text, audio, video and imagery to create contextual  targeting segments which are then matched to particular advertiser requirements, so that advertising appears in a relevant and appropriate environment.

So for example, a news article about the Australian Open may show Serena Williams wearing sponsorship partner Nike’s tennis shoes, and then an ad for sports shoes could appear within the relevant environment. In this instance, the environment is relevant to the product.

Some advanced contextual targeting tools even have video recognition capabilities, where they can analyse each frame of video content, identify logos or products, recognise brand safe images, with audio transcript informing it all, to provide an optimum environment for marketing within and around that piece of video content. This includes, importantly, every frame within the video, and not just the title, thumbnail, and tags. This same type of analysis is also applied across audio content and imagery, to ensure the site as a whole is brand-safe.

For instance, a contextual targeting tool can analyse a video that contains images of a beer brand, identify through the audio & video that it is a brand-safe environment, and inform the marketers that it is an optimum channel for and marketing content about beer to appear to the relevant target audience.

Older tools might only analyse video titles or audio, and don’t delve deeply into imagery, meaning ads could end up in an inappropriate environment. For example, the title of a video might be innocuous and deemed ‘safe’ by an older contextual tool, like ‘How to make great beer’ however the content of the video itself might be severely inappropriate, such as a video of underage teenagers making beer – now brand advertising in that environment is something no marketer can currently afford.

Some solutions have built an industry-first contextual marketplace that enables select technology partners to plug in their proprietary algorithms as an additional layer of targeting, and offer brands protection from racist, inappropriate or toxic content – that can be applied to ensure brand safety and suitability are managed correctly.

2. Fosters brand-safe environments

Good contextual targeting also ensures context is not negatively associated with a product, so for the above example, it would ensure the ad doesn’t appear if the article was negative, fake news, contained political bias or misinformation.

For example, the ad for tennis shoes wouldn’t appear if the article is about how bad tennis shoes cause pain.

These tools allow for more sophisticated approaches than simple keyword matching, and allow marketers to nominate environments they want to include, and importantly, the ones they want to exclude, such as content using hate speech, hyper partisanship, hyper politicalism, racism, toxicity, stereotyping, etc. For instance, solutions such as 4D enable advanced  automatic exclusion of these types of signals through exclusive integrations with specialist partners such as Factmata, and other contextual signals can be added to enhance the safety of where an ad appears.

A reliable contextual targeting tool can analyse content and alert you to nuanced brand safety violations such as:

  • Clickbait
  • Racism
  • Hyper politicalism or political bias
  • Fake news
  • Misinformation
  • Hate speech
  • Hyper partisanship
  • Toxicity
  • Stereotyping

3. More effective than using third-party cookies

Contextual targeting has actually been shown to be more effective than targeting using third party cookies. In fact, some studies suggest contextual targeting can increase purchase intent by 63%, versus audience or channel level targeting.

The same studies found 73% of consumers feel contextually relevant ads complemented the overall content or video experience. Plus, consumers targeted at the contextual level were 83% more likely to recommend the product in the advertisement, than those targeted at the audience or channel level.

Overall brand favorability was 40% higher for consumers targeted at the contextual level, and consumers served contextual ads reported they would pay more for a brand. Finally, ads with the most contextual relevance elicited 43% more neural engagements.

This is because reaching consumers in the right mindset in the right moment makes ads resonate better, and therefore improves purchase intent far more than an irrelevant ad following consumers around the internet.

This is hardly surprising. Consumers are bombarded with marketing and advertising on a daily basis, receiving thousands of messages daily. This requires them to efficiently filter out irrelevant messaging quickly, so only relevant messaging gets through for further consideration. We can see this consumer annoyance at the bombardment reflected in the increased use of ad blockers. Consumers are, however, receptive to messages that are relevant to their current situation, and contextual targeting increases the likelihood a message is relevant to them in the moment.

4. Complements programmatic

Of the most concern to those fretting the loss of the cookie is what this might mean to programmatic. However, contextual targeting actually facilitates programmatic, to an extent where it surpasses the effectiveness of the cookie. This is good news for marketers, considering a recent report found programmatic retargeting relying on cookies overstated ad reach by 89%, understated frequency by 47%, and understate conversion for display and video by 41%.

However, contextual targeting actually works better with programmatic because it can be served in real-time, at scale, in more relevant (and safe) environments, than programmatic fuelled by the third-party cookie can. In fact, it was recently reported contextual is actually better aligned with programmatic than any other type of targeting.

New platforms also offer the ability to ingest first-party data from DMP, CDP, ad servers, and other sources, which once fed through an intelligence engine, draws out contextual insights that can be applied in programmatic advertising.

All this means a combination of contextual targeting and first-party data gives brands the opportunity to create a closer connection with their consumers by associating with the content which actually engages them.

5. Unlocks a new layer of intelligence for marketers

The next generation of contextually intelligent tools can open up powerful opportunities for marketers to better capitalise on consumer trends and strengthen media planning and research, all by providing that deeper insight into trending and appropriate content.

Contextual targeting not only increases purchase intent, it also does so with less spend, making the post-cookie cost per conversion considerably lower – a vitally important achievement in the current economic climate.

And we start to see more contextual targeting tools leverage first-party data from any supported DMP, CDP, or Ad Server,  we can now start to see how this can be transformed into contextual intelligence to power actionable omnichannel contexts, saving time-poor marketers and advertisers considerable time and effort by creating and deploying the perfect context all at once. This then ensures the delivery of optimal messaging in a brand safe environment across display, video, native, audio and addressable TV.

Contextual advertising using AI makes a brand more relatable, more relevant and offers more value to consumers, compared to ads targeted at the behavioural level using third-party cookies. Importantly, it helps brands, agencies, publishers and ad platforms to turn a fresh corner in the post-cookie era, ensuring ads are aligned with specific content and context across all channels, easily and quickly.

Moving forward, contextual targeting will allow marketers to get back to what it is they should be doing – forging a real, authentic and empathetic connection with consumers in the right place and at the right time. As marketing goes ‘back to the future’, contextual targeting will be the smarter and safer way forward to drive better, more meaningful marketing messages at scale.

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Tim Beveridge
Silverbullet’s GM Strategic Consulting
Tim is a leading strategic consultant with over 20 years’ experience working at the intersection of marketing and technology. Passionate about driving better customer experiences and stronger business results, Tim joined Silverbullet as GM of Strategic Consulting in December 2019.

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