The Smart Way to Reach Consumers: Contextual Advertising & Targeting

Contextual advertising capitalises on the idea of reaching audiences in the right place at the right time - while also respecting their privacy.

As consumers policymakers and internet browsers all move to reduce the use of third-party cookies it's a future-proof way for brands to reach relevant audiences and retain a good return on ad spend.

Here's everything you need to know about contextual advertising along with some examples to inspire your campaigns.

What is Contextual Advertising?

Contextual advertising is the practice of serving ads on a web page based on the content of that web page. It is about matching the content of an ad with the content being consumed.

By making ads relevant to a page's content brands can connect with relevant consumers at the right time. With contextual targeting ad placements are likely to be viewed as interesting and helpful - rather than annoying or intrusive.

For example a sportswear brand could display an ad for wetsuits on a news article about triathlons. Or a flour brand could display its ads on a website dedicated to baking.

Contextual advertising is easily achieved with keyword and subject matter segmentation.

Six Contextual Advertising examples

Here are some contextual advertising examples to help you understand all the clever ways it can be used to promote products.

1. Smart alarm ads for those reading up on security tech

On the ExtremeTech website you're likely to see ads for a variety of tech products from touchscreen cameras and smartphones through to 3D printers and high-end computers.

In the example below ads for a smart home alarm system are shown to readers browsing the website's 'Security' category. This is the perfect example of reaching the right audience at the right time.

2. Ads for muffin cups in an article about muffin cups

Epicurious is a website dedicated to recipes and cooking advice. Contextual advertising positively adds to its reader experience and neatly fits into the modern consumer journey.

The editorial team offers their insights into a number of cooking utensils and appliances giving a verdict on what's worth investing in. This article explains that silicone muffin cases are both effective and sustainable. Then at the bottom a selection of ads for silicone cases is displayed.

If consumers like what they've read they can start shopping with one convenient click. There's five products from well-known brands like Crate & Barrel and Le Creuset. To suit all budgets they range in price from $13 to $29.

3. A highly relevant range of ads for a health-conscious audience

Fitness Blender which publishes free workout videos routines and recipes offers a bunch of great contextual advertising examples.

It has ads for knives alongside its recipes and nutrition articles. The ad below shows a man cutting steak right next to an article about protein sources.

There's ads for running shoes alongside its workouts. Reiterating the point made above as contextual ads relate directly to the content of the page they have the potential to offer the user a seamless and unified experience without requiring excessive data.

4. Niche ads targeted at niche talent

Stack Overflow is a Q&A forum for programmers. That makes it the ideal place for employers to place job advertisements targeted at developers.

Before clicking into a specific thread the site shows users a mixture of local job ads and company promos.

But once they click into a specific forum thread they see highly targeted job ads based on what they're reading. The thread below discusses user interface design and consequently there are ads for related roles on the right-hand side.

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Example of contextual ad using information from the page to hire talent

5. Targeting bike buyers with contextual video advertising

With Google Ads brands can easily make contextual video advertising part of their omnichannel marketing.

In the example below the video guides on how to buy a hybrid bike and it kicks off with an advertisement for HPS Bikes.

YouTube recently introduced a new feature called dynamic lineups to help brands scale their contextual video advertising and automatically present audiences with creatives that convert.

To drive sales brands can also take advantage of YouTube's TrueView cards. This allows them to insert product links into their ads and turn them into shoppable videos. This has a proven track record of increasing engagement and revenue for beauty brands like Sephora and eCommerce leaders like WayFair.

As well as contextual video advertising YouTube also allows brands to promote display ads in search results and video overlays.

6. Coke gets creative with in-stream advertising

The use of OTT advertising on streaming services is relatively new but brands are already finding new and creative ways to introduce contextual video advertising to these platforms.

For example ads for pots pans and other cooking utensils could be presented to cooking show viewers. While travel shows might feature ads for airlines.

But in the example below Diet Coke provides one of the most cunning contextual advertising examples on this list. It targets viewers who pause their on-demand stream knowing that they may be heading to the kitchen for a drink.

This is pretty great timing and drives viewers to drink more of its product.

How contextual advertising works

Contextual targeting can be done through the Google Display Network or a demand-side platform such as AdRoll BrightRoll or Amazon DSP.

Whatever platform you use you will be able to set parameters which determine the placement of your product ads. On Google for example contextual targeting is done by selecting keywords and topics.

A car parts brand could choose the topic 'Autos & Vehicles' and where relevant even pick precise subtopics like 'Motorcycles'. It could also choose a keyword like 'motorcycle maintenance' to ensure only relevant viewers see the ad.

Brands can go even further by specifying the geographical locations or demographics that they would like to target. Using all these criteria Google then places product ads on relevant pages.

Google is key when it comes to contextual targeting because it crawls billions of web pages each day and knows exactly what they're about. Unfortunately Facebook doesn't offer keyword-based contextual targeting yet.

Contextual vs behavioural advertising

Contextual and behavioural advertising come with many of the same benefits such as strong ROI and a better audience experience. But contextual targeting offers some extra perks as well.

1. Contextual targeting doesn't rely on cookies

The biggest benefit of contextual advertising is that it allows brands to reach relevant consumers without relying on the collection of personal data.

As countries introduce strict privacy legislation and internet browsers move away from the use of third-party cookies behavioural advertising becomes increasingly difficult and limited.

In Europe for instance GDPR legislation requires visitors to actively opt-in for advertising cookies. Otherwise they can't be retargeted. However contextual advertising allows brands to reach highly relevant audiences without relying on these cookies.

2. Behavioural advertising can cost a lot

Contextual advertising can't be personalised in the same way as behavioural ads. But because it doesn't rely on data collection brands of every size can run successful campaigns.

For big brands it makes sense to employ staff and tools to track analyse and use valuable first-party data. But contextual advertising allows startups and brands with smaller budgets to reach relevant audiences without doing this.

3. Sometimes contextual targeting makes more sense

Behavioural targeting is a powerful way to reach the right customers. But these ads don't always reach people at the right moment in time.

For example during work hours people are less unlikely to click on ads for personal products. But if they see an ad for clothes as they browse their favourite fashion blog they're much more likely to engage with it. This is where contextual ads win out.

4. At times behavioural targeting feels intrusive

Sometimes one person will see the same ad over and over again. As consumers become more concerned about online privacy this experience can be annoying - and even intrusive.

Frequency caps can address this issue. But contextual advertising also offers a way to reach the right audience without being creepy. If an ad follows someone around it is much less obvious when it matches the content they're checking out.

Final thoughts

In the contextual vs behavioural targeting debate there is no real winner. Both approaches offer big benefits. However as behavioural targeting becomes more limited it makes sense for brands to implement contextual targeting as well.

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