When you go online, whether you like it or not, every website you visit, every article you read, and every ad you click on is being tracked (incognito mode can help you with that though). There are two sides to this coin. First, you can be troubled by the fact that there is so much information about you that companies are using to advertise to you. This train of thought is nothing new, as we’ve been in a debate about big data and what it means for our privacy.
The other side is that this type of advertising allows you, the consumer, to receive highly personalized, extremely relevant advertising online. Instead of getting ads for a product you’d never use, you see banner ads for a jacket that is on sale from a clothing store whose website you often visit. So while yes, there is certainly a line that shouldn’t be crossed when it comes to personalized marketing (such as when Target was able to send coupons for baby products to expecting mothers), but for the most part, when businesses try to be ethical and don’t try to be too overbearing, it can produce a win-win situation for both consumer and the business.
What is Contextual Advertising?
Contextual advertising certainly falls within the pedigree of personalized marketing messaging. This type of marketing involves tailoring the ads your consumers see based on the content they’re viewing, as well as past websites you have visited (otherwise known as remarketing). Pretty simple, right? A quick example is if you’re looking at fishing boats online and you see a banner ad for fishing poles. So how exactly does this type of marketing work?
How Contextual Advertising Works
A contextual advertising system will scan the text of a website for keywords and will then display ads based on those keywords. Contextual advertising is also used by search engines to display advertisements on their search results pages based on the keywords in the user’s query. So, a business’s marketing team can therefore create ads and select keywords that they want said ad to be associated with. Google Adsense is the most popular service provider that helps brands accomplish contextual advertising.
To illustrate contextual advertising in action, I look at some websites on my own computer and phone and looked for ads that fit the bill as contextual.
Website: Rotten Tomatoes
Advertisement: Green Book (movie)
It makes sense that the marketing team for a film would want to advertise on a movie review website. While they may specifically be advertising on Rotten Tomatoes by choice, the Green Book marketing team may also have targeted keywords like “movie reviews,” or “movies opening this week” so that their advertisement will be shown on pages with content that match those words.
Website: The New York Times – Finances
Advertisement: Liberty Mutual Insurance
I found this Liberty Mutual Insurance banner ad on the ‘Finances’ section of the New York Times website. Liberty Mutual may have targeted keywords like “personal finance,” “finance news,” and “auto and home insurance” so that they can get in front of the right audience.
Advertisement: The Nomadik
Here is a different example of how contextual advertising can work through a social platform like Instagram rather than through a Google search query. This is a highly appropriate ad for me because I follow a lot of outdoorsy accounts, outdoor photographers, and outdoor clothing brands. Rather than targeting keywords, the Nomadik likely set up their Instagram ad campaign to target those who follow certain accounts, like Patagonia, REI, and Outside Magazine.
Advertisement: IBM Storage
IBM advertises on Wired’s website, which makes sense. Wired is known for their commentary on technology in today’s world, and IBM is a leading technology provider. It’s a match made in heaven and is sure to be of interest for a decent proportion of those on the site.
Website: The New Yorker
Moo is a great brand to advertise on the New Yorker’s website, which is aimed at young, metropolitan professionals who are just entering their first full-time position or at least still early on in their careers. With Moo’s modern, creative, and fun business card designs, their target market is essentially the same. This one may also have a hint of remarketing to it, as I’ve viewed Moo’s website before and browsed around on it.
These are broader examples, but contextual advertising can get extremely narrow and specific. For example, let’s say I’m on a travel blog and I’m reading about San Fransisco and all the fun things to do there. Then, I notice an airline ad for cheap flights to San Fransisco. That airline likely targeted the keywords, “San Fransisco,” or even, “California vacation,” and other variants of those words.