Context is The King of Digital Advertising’s Future

On September 14, 2021

Content is still important, but context is the new king. Where your ad appears matters most. And brands are quickly catching on to the idea that publishers provide the perfect mix of where your ads appear, the moment your ads are presented, and the person receiving the ads, creating a recipe for success and a hunger for more.

By Swita Charanasomboon (Marketing Director, APAC) and Dylan Robinson (Country Manager, Australia & New Zealand) 

In the 4 Ps of marketing — product, price, promotion, and placement — placement often gets the short end of the stick. But it’s time to change that narrative.

I’ll start with a story.

While lockdown lingered on, and the “I’ll clean out that dusty bookshelf today!” levels of boredom set in, I, well…cleaned out that dusty bookshelf. 

Before doing marketing at Taboola, APAC, I studied marketing and actually kept my old notes.  I said “hello” to a marketing textbook. In flipping through it, one takeaway quickly jumped out at me: There were a lot of words devoted to “product” and very little devoted to “placement.”

The book’s fictional brand manager of a multinational consumer goods company spent all of her time developing the product and promotional content. But…then what? She handed off her baby to the sales team for shelf placement and the media agency for ad placement, and hoped for the best. 

Having been a brand manager in my past life, I realized (somewhat resignedly) how much truth there was to this. And it brought up an important lesson: brands have a huge opportunity to think more about the context in which their ads appear. 

At the same time, my colleague Dylan, Country Manager, Australia, was fielding concerns from many brand managers about the difficulties of launching new products amid lockdown restrictions. Since in-person sampling and product demonstrations weren’t possible, they were wondering how they would get their products seen.

To start, we advocate that brand managers reverse the process they’ve been used to. It’s time to start paying attention to context and not just content

That’s right. Context is the new king of advertising — what surrounds your ads on the page, as well as when your ads are presented to your audience, is just as important as the content inside the ads. 

To illustrate this idea, we did a fun photoshoot. We featured a lone gold bracelet, hanging among gaudier candy bracelets. A baby bottle filled with milk, mistakenly put into a six-pack of beer. A sad piece of sushi, pushed to the edge by an army of burgers.

There’s a sense of strangeness, awkwardness, and even loneliness to these images. It’s clear that one item among each group just doesn’t belong — a fish out of water, a product that could have value and could make an impact if only it weren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That’s your ad in the wrong context. And that’s why context plays such an important role in campaign performance.

Let’s take a closer look at how.

Where Social Platforms Miss When It Comes To Context

On social platforms, ads aren’t alway set up for success. They can be brilliantly designed, beautifully written, and expertly targeted. But, at the end of the day, if they’re delivered to users in the wrong context, they may not drive engagement.

Think about it. In social environments, ads can be placed alongside user generated content (UGC) that brands just can’t control. They can be easily skipped or scrolled past when they’re presented before a video that someone really wants to see. And at worst, they can be placed in an entirely irrelevant context, ready to be promptly ignored in-feed.

It should come as no surprise, then, that just 17% of consumers say they trust ads on social media, according to a 2020 study by Kantar. Meaning, social isn’t always a brand-safe environment for marketers. And that’s a bigger problem than ever in the midst of a global pandemic.

As the Trustworthy Accountability Group found, more than 85% of consumers say they would stop purchasing products from brands they regularly use — or at least reduce their purchasing frequency — if they saw their ad running next COVID-related misinformation.

News Sites: Where Context Reigns Supreme

Evidently, marketers need a more brand-safe alternative to social channels. The answer? Premium publisher sites.

By distributing campaigns across news sites, marketers can rest assured that their ads are housed in a trustworthy environment and shown to audiences in the right context. In fact, a recent IAB study found that 84% of news consumers maintained or increased trust for brands that advertised on their preferred news platforms. Additionally, 45% of survey respondents said they’d be more likely to visit the brand’s site and 43% would consider purchasing from the brand.

The Overall Importance of Contextual Targeting

Contextual targeting isn’t just important for reaching the right audiences on the right platforms at the right time. It’s also the key to many brands’ future survival as third-party cookies are set to disappear.

That’s because advertisers have historically relied on third-party data sources to track and target their audiences. When those third-party sources go away, advertisers without another solution are going to have a tough time gathering and activating data from audiences across the web.

Contextual targeting on news sites will be a major part of the answer. IAB Australia even launched a Contextual Targeting Handbook to help marketers build their strategies for 2021 and beyond.

With contextual targeting, brands can select which types of news stories they want their ads to run next to and which publications they want to be seen on, so they know they’re reaching audiences who are truly listening to and engaging with content that’s relevant to their brand messaging.

That’s why, as we navigate the near future of digital advertising and inevitable changes in the landscape, context should be top of mind for marketers. Because what’s in your ad matters, yes. But it’s only as effective as where that ad is placed and when it reaches your audience.

In other words, context is king. Without it, your ad is gold among junk.