Ed Preedy of GumGum: why contextual ads are making a comeback in a safety-conscious digital world

The contextual comeback – why advertisers must take advantage

The concept of ‘contextual advertising’ is certainly not new. However, despite having been on marketers’ radars for some time, a number of recent events have given this form of targeted marketing more precedence in marketing strategies – especially as advertisers are increasingly competing for attention in an ever more saturated online world.

So, what exactly is contextual advertising? In the purest sense, it’s when we place relevant ads alongside content that users have an interest in. 32 per cent of UK businesses already use this technique, but our recent report revealed that the use of contextual advertising is only set to increase – a further 31 per cent admitted to planning to spend more on contextual targeting next year.

Contextual targeting has the ability both to increase the relevance of advertising and improve the user experience, making it a win-win for brands and consumers alike. But what exactly is triggering this renaissance into contextual, and what does it mean for the future of the industry at large? One of the reasons contextual is making a comeback, is due to the rise of semantic technology that allows machines a far deeper understanding of the contents of a page – both words and images. This enables advertisers to create much more sophisticated links between the content and the advertising, and by extension, provides a far greater ability to target customers.

Not only this, but the speed at which today’s targeting systems operate means there is reduced latency – an issue which used to be severely damaging to the customer experience. Clearly, machine learning and artificial intelligence are at the forefront of what contextual will be able to deliver in the future.

Brand safety concerns have also played a key role in driving this renaissance. The research highlighted that marketers are still approaching brand safety with extreme caution. When asked whether the advertisers who pulled their advertising from YouTube in the wake of The Times investigation in 2017 had made the right decision, 79 per cent of UK respondents said yes, for example.

New contextual tools offer the ability to examine the content of a page in far more detail, including imagery. This opens up more opportunities to reduce risk and deliver ads in brand safe, contextually relevant environments.

The final, biggest driver of this renaissance is GDPR. GDPR initially posed a huge threat to advertisers, as the regulations restricted access to third party data – something the industry had depended on to identify relevant consumers ever since the dawn of programmatic.

But the regulation has had the effect of highlighting the value of contextual targeting in the UK, because advertisers are finally being forced to be smarter in their approach. Consumers want to see fewer ads and more relevant content – it’s no longer enough to identify potentially relevant users based on just their age, gender or previous online activity. GDPR has handed power back to consumers, who will happily erase any online footprints in a bid to reduce the number of irrelevant interruptions they face from poorly targeted ads.

While all these factors have served as clear reminders to marketers of the value contextual targeting brings to online advertising, this shift toward contextual is clearly underpinned by a deeper trend – that of advertisers desiring to associate themselves with better quality content.

Better technology – specifically the ability to analyse images and not just keywords – combined with demands from consumers for more relevant content, and a desire from advertisers to match those demands, may mean irrelevant advertising and disconnected ads will soon be a thing of the past. Contextual is once again at the forefront of advertising- it’s time brands took advantage.

Ed Preedy is MD of Europe at computer vision company GumGum.

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