Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Back to the future: why contextual advertising on its own isn’t enough

By Aaron McKee, CTO, Blis

The world has changed. There’s no denying that. The rate of change accelerated dramatically this year, and the way our industry works, how we interact with data and measure results is also transforming rapidly. Evolving privacy legislation and technical choices being made by key platform players such as Google and Apple are impacting the quantity of data available.

For premium data partners, however, the scarcity of high-quality data will make what they have to offer all the more valuable. With data becoming more rare and precious, the way the industry works will need to change in line with the broader world, all whilst trying to keep programmatic advertising innovative, exciting and privacy friendly.

But the industry seems to be either in denial or reverting back to the way things used to be done. We’re seeing vendors look to leverage email addresses instead of IDFAs (random device identifiers assigned by Apple to a consumer’s device). We’re also seeing a rise in basic contextual advertising. Ten years ago, it would have been commonplace for companies to scrape URLs to understand what pages were about and then apply contextually relevant ads to them.

But that’s not the answer today. The industry needs to recalibrate its thinking. This means creating and delivering privacy focused solutions that still give brands that scale, reach and the bang for their buck they demand. 

What we’ll see in 2021 is that, hamstrung by IDFA and privacy regulations, media planners and buyers will perhaps attempt to do things the ‘old way’, either through direct media buys from publishers or pure contextual targeting via the trading platforms. Both of these options lack the scale and excitement of audience buying. If planners continue to buy traditional audiences using their go-to platforms, they’ll be mainly dealing with identifiers only from Android phones, this will ultimately whittle down the publishers they can work with and the media they can buy to a very small group.

CPMs will skyrocket for a small pool of personalisable inventory. But, as we know, brands want to speak to the entire addressable market and be able to accurately measure the results, so this option lacks scale and measurability. The industry needs to solve this challenge in new ways and find alternatives that are compatible with the way the industry and the world are changing.

At Blis, for example, we’re approaching this industry dilemma by releasing new products and partnering to combine Blis’ valuable and accurate location data with customer characteristics and online behaviours. Our latest product is called Prospect Targeting, which gives the world’s biggest brands a powerful tool to find, target and reach more customers like their current ones and drive them in store or online this holiday season and beyond. 

It works by combining the accurate real-world behaviours that only movement data can provide, with consumer data such as car and home ownership, household income and lifestyles, as well as demographic and socio-economic factors. Additionally, it incorporates online behaviours, including what apps consumers use, what websites they browse, what games they play and what times of day and days of week they use their devices, resulting in deep insights into a brand’s customers. 

Using intelligent affinity and index modelling, Prospect Targeting enables brands to expand their customer base by finding and targeting new and lapsed customers at scale, and importantly, without reliance on personal data, as it uses only aggregated and anonymised data throughout. 

We’ve also recently announced exclusive partnerships with both O2 and Skyrise in the UK, enabling us to reach specific audiences based on real customer behaviour at the top of the purchase funnel. We do this by matching aggregated and anonymised telco data on customer behaviour data to websites or apps with audience segments.

Another rich and consented dataset we use is historic location data to retarget consumers and their entire household while they’re at home, using Blis’ proprietary technology designed to identify and reach entire households at scale.

It’s clear that pure contextual isn’t the answer to today’s challenges, but imagine taking contextual information and then overlaying other rich, anonymised data on top of it, such as real-world locations visited, online sites and apps visited, as well as the various properties that the audience over indexes for, such as home and car ownership, household income and more – to get a more complete view.

Connecting customer characteristics with online activity and Blis’ accurate real-world behavioural intelligence is a productive and privacy proof path forward that we believe in.

Let’s not go back to newspaper buying from the 1930s… Instead, let’s wake up and shift into  new ways of thinking about how we can solve these pressing industry challenges.