Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Spotlight on Contextual Advertising: Q&A with Peter Wallace of GumGum

With the privacy-first agenda showing no signs of slowing, ‘contextual’ advertising solutions are back on the radar of brand marketers – but what exactly is ‘contextual’ advertising in 2022 and what capabilities does it bring to the party?

New Digital Age spoke to Peter Wallace, General Manager, EMEA at GumGum to find out more.

Hello Peter. What does ‘contextual’ advertising mean today?

Rather than relying on intrusive behavioural data, contextual ads are relevant to the digital environment they appear within, across mobile, web, video or app. By analysing the data signals within any digital environment, advertisers can serve highly relevant and brand-safe messages targeted around the content the user is viewing, better capturing consumer attention and driving significantly improved results for brands. 

It’s not a new concept. For many years much of advertising depended entirely on context, for example, tourist boards appearing in travel sections of newspapers. Comparing contextual targeting of the past with that of today is like comparing a Model T Ford with a Tesla. Conceptually they are the same, but they’re worlds apart in terms of technology, performance, sophistication and what they deliver. 

So how’s it different from what went before?

Traditionally, contextual intelligence was driven by keyword targeting delivering site-level or URL targeting. Now, it’s much more sophisticated, using Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing and Computer Vision to analyse text, image, audio and video cues – a process known as ‘content-level contextual analysis’. This allows the true meaning of any environment to be identified. From this deep understanding, targeted campaigns can be delivered based on what the user is interested in at that very moment in time. Today’s sophisticated contextual advertising is built to support modern marketers’ current and future needs.    

Advertisers should be aware, however, that many contextual providers still only analyse text-based data. For true contextual targeting with the most accurate ad placement, advertisers need to work with providers that have mastered content-level contextual analysis, which encompasses all of the data signals I talked about – text, image, video and audio.

Why is it becoming increasingly important now?

Two crucial and related factors drive this growing interest in contextual advertising – one industry-driven and the other consumer-led. Losing third-party cookies – maybe not imminently, but certainly in due course – means marketers’ and agencies’ ability to target using typical audience data segments is hugely limited. 

And then there’s consumer sentiment. Consumers see the current approach of targeting them based on their online behaviours as invasive and creepy, undermining their trust in advertising. GumGum’s own research found that 66% of UK consumers are uncomfortable with brands tracking their browsing history. In essence, the industry has created an advertising environment that consumers don’t want. To safeguard consumers and rebuild their trust, new approaches are needed. This is why contextual advertising is moving to the fore. 

And how does contextual advertising overcome these issues? 

Firstly, it’s cookieless. By matching a digital environment’s context to an ad’s content, contextual delivers targeted advertising in relevant environments without relying on any other data signals. And secondly, by avoiding consumer tracking, it conforms to their wishes of not being followed online while complying with all data protection legislation. 

Contextual targeting also removes marketers’ brand safety fears. It eradicates their concerns around their brand appearing on compromising sites by allowing them to target campaigns in premium environments that support and enhance their brand values.  

This makes contextual perfect for brands. In adopting contextual targeting, they can be confident they’re not infringing data protection legislation while benefiting from a consumer-centric targeting approach that delivers results. A study from Dentsu found contextual was much more efficient than traditional cookie-based methods, with contextual intelligence ad impressions costing almost a third less than behaviourally targeted ones.  

So what do consumers think of this form of advertising?

Research shows they welcome it. A Harris Poll survey found that 80% of consumers are more open to seeing advertising on a website if those ads didn’t use their personal data. 

Does this mean contextual targeting is the future? 

Yes, but successful advertising doesn’t come down to a single factor. Using contextual signals to drive relevant, targeted advertising is only part of the solution. Success relies on two other critical and complementary factors:

The creative: Size, placement, and the ad creative are essential factors to ensure an ad is seen. And in this multi-channel world, impactful advertising requires formats designed to work in the specific environments they appear in, from website and mobile to Connected Television (CTV) and online gaming. It’s only when context and creative are perfectly aligned that the true potential of online ads can be properly realised.

Correct measurement: To determine an ad’s impact, it must be measured. The most effective way to do this is to measure attention time – the length of time, in seconds, that an ad is looked at. Each additional second a user views an ad, brand awareness can rise by as much as 11% and recall by 7%. Measuring attention identifies if the context and creative capture the user’s interest in the moment and deliver advertising that works.

Successful advertising requires a framework that combines contextual targeting, engaging creative and attention measurement,  something we refer to as the Mindset Matrix.

So mindset plays a vital role in targeting?

Yes, but it’s something that is often overlooked. Ultimately, digital advertising must be about targeting people in the right mindset. Simply knowing who a person is and their past behaviour fails to address their mood or frame of mind at that very moment in time. Understanding this allows human-centric ads to be delivered when they’re in the right mindset to connect with a brand. Contextual delivers this, but behavioural targeting can’t. 

In which advertising environments does contextual advertising work best? 

Today’s marketers face a raft of challenges. Contextual advertising is the perfect antidote for addressing them, overcoming digital advertising’s woes, and delivering an effective, proven and future-proof targeting solution.

In a multi-channel world, contextual works across all digital environments. Because today’s sophisticated approaches analyse audio, textual, and visual elements, contextual advertising can be applied to any environment, including emerging channels such as CTV and in-game.

And by adopting contextual advertising, brands are not only safeguarding their future targeting, abiding with existing (and upcoming) privacy legislation, and protecting their brand. They’re respecting consumers’ wishes, and in doing so, they are helping to re-establish a trusted, vibrant digital advertising industry that benefits everyone.