Technically, contextual marketing isn’t new. At its core, the strategy involves choosing which websites will make the best hosts for particular ad content, a key approach even in the earliest days of the internet. Yet, early versions of contextual marketing tended to be imprecise, labor intensive, slow to adapt to changing landscapes and language, and difficult to scale up. So, as third-party cookies became widely available, its role was usurped by identity and behavior-based targeting.
However, in recent years, this old guard of web marketing is making a comeback, thanks in large part to the imminent loss of third-party cookies and rising data privacy concerns and fresh technology. To stay relevant, savvy advertisers need to move beyond the status quo. And contextual marketing, especially in its modern guise, may be just the answer they need. Here’s why.
Enhance data privacy.
In 2019, a Pew Research Center survey found that 70% of people worried that their digital information was becoming more vulnerable and 79% worried about the ways that companies might be using their data. In response, governments have bolstered their privacy protections—for example, GDPR and CCPA safeguards—and Internet bigwigs Apple, Mozilla, and Google, have begun phasing out third-party cookies.
Fortunately, part of contextual marketing’s beauty is that it doesn’t rely on identifying particular users or even their behaviors. Rather, it targets audience consumption, using artificial intelligence to analyze individual pages to assess their suitability as an ad host, then deliver the messages most relevant to that environment.
More than just content.
Historically, keywords were king in context-driven advertising. Marketers looked for websites or individual articles where the general topic jived with their product. Keywords are still part of the equation: PulsePoint’s health-specific platforms, for example, identify 27,000 health categories and conditions, 87,000 related terms, and 232,000 supplemental terms.
But, keywords are really only useful when viewed as part of a bigger picture. The contextual approach is about being holistic, accounting for creator, platform, device, format, and the piece of content as a whole. By looking through this wide lens, a marketer can better assess why someone may be reading an article on Alicia Silverstone’s blog about whether a plant-based diet can help with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Are they grappling with PCOS themselves and looking for answers? Were they drawn to the vegan lifestyle blog because they’re considering a dietary change? Or are they devoted fans of Silverstone herself? All of these factors can help marketers decide whether to place an ad just on a specific article or if they should consider other pages on the site as well.
Indeed, the evolving technology makes it easier than ever to use this encompassing strategy. In 2018, PulsePoint led the way when it launched Condition Pages, the first healthcare-specific contextual marketing solution. Condition Pages “categorized the context in which health-specific terminology is identified.” In 2019, the company took things a step further with Condition Populations, which harnesses machine learning to identify health-relevant themes to find the audience most likely to engage.
Match your brand.
Beyond thinking about how well webpage and ad content match up, a quality contextual strategy ensures brand safety and suitability.
Safety is the first concern, and it’s something all marketers think about, whether they’re working with health and life sciences brands or fashion. In fact, research by AI company GumGum suggests that three-quarters of brands have had a “brand-unsafe exposure” in the past year. At its most basic, ensuring brand safety means keeping ad messaging away from hate speech or content encouraging violence. The World Federation of Advertisers and Global Alliance for Responsible Media have paired up to define and monitor harmful content that advertisers should avoid.
What’s more, health marketers have extra brand safety considerations, from regulation compliance to content accuracy. For example, while COVID-19 content may be a major draw, a recent assessment only found 76% of it to be safe.
But brand matching doesn’t stop at safety. For contextual marketing to be effective, the content and its platform need to be appropriate. This is more subjective than the question of safety, but it’s still important. Sure Gwyneth Paltrow has a huge following and shares her experiences with long-COVID on her lifestyle blog, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right place to advertise science-backed health brands. On the other hand, it might be just the venue for vitamins, herbal remedies, or more general lifestyle products.
Contextual marketing works.
We already know that contextual marketing is effective. A recent study by GumGum, Inc. found high context ads to be “13% more engaging than low context ads.” This engagement translates into results. According to a 2016 study of 8,600 consumers conducted by IPG Media Lab and ZEFR, people were 83 percent more likely to recommend products seen via contextual strategies compared to non-contextual targeting. Contextual advertising also led to a 63% increase in purchase intent.
And it’s only getting better. As technology improves, we’re able to understand an increasingly comprehensive picture, across domains, pages, content types, and even devices, making contextual advertising the marketing solution for 2021 and beyond.
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