What Is Contextually Relevant Advertising?

Amid the scramble to balance privacy and ad value, contextually relevant advertising is getting noticed, and in a big way. Previously neglected for behavioral ad models, context-based ads are experiencing a resurgence and offering advertisers a path forward as third-party cookies face extinction. 

Exchanging cookie-based targeting with more organic, topically appropriate ad placement, contextually relevant advertising is aligned with engaging content for a better overall experience. With this strategy, for example, technology content is supplemented by electronics ads, sports videos might connect to beer or sports gear tie-ins, and stock market updates tend to run alongside financial advisor or mutual fund ads.  

With a major industry shift now upon us, the model is making a notable comeback as advertisers see the many benefits – especially when it comes to reaching high-value patrons who place a premium on privacy. As Bloomberg explains, tech giants Apple and Google are ditching the cookie model in order to secure personal data and all-around privacy. 

More than just privacy advantages, however, highly contextual ads have another major benefit: versatility. When prospective customers aren’t on their devices, ad models requiring personal data are essentially flying blind – but ads based on context and content can thrive.

By focusing on context over cookies, advertisers are in a position to create high-quality impressions whether consumers are on personal devices or looking at common-area digital screens. Perhaps more importantly, as Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) advertising increases, advertisers have a proven path for connecting with their intended audience. Here’s what to know about contextually relevant advertising and why it’s once again on the rise.

Advertisers Are Getting Around Fatigue with Contextually Relevant Advertising

Ad fatigue is a well-known problem, though one that isn’t always easy to circumvent. The issue can also be exacerbated by strategies that rely upon third-party cookies: a consumer searches for hiking boots one time and is still flooded with related ads months after making a purchase or moving on. Although most people are willing to accept some ads, particularly alongside free content, ad fatigue can quickly build when ads don’t feel current or relevant.

This type of advertising butterfly effect is an easy way to encourage consumers to install ad blockers and do whatever they can to ignore ads. Not only are irrelevant ads frustrating consumers, but the entire system appears to be fundamentally flawed or broken. Given this common problem, it’s not surprising that Google is planning on completely phasing out cookies on Chrome in 2024 despite multiple delays.

The planned removal of third-party cookies from the ad process aligns perfectly with the renewal of contextual advertising. When audiences are already consuming value-rich content for a particular topic, there are several upfront advantages of integrating relevant ads:

  • Active/active interest in the topic
  • A more organic experience
  • Brand-safe environment
  • Less invasive

While third-party cookie strategies continue down the path to irrelevancy, contextual approaches appeal to customers who are proactively looking at related content. This often yields a more organic experience that protects the brand while reflecting well on both the content producer and advertiser.

A Renewed Focus on Quality Impressions Over Quantity

Advertisers have ample incentive to continue the exodus from quantity-based approaches. While focusing on the number of views and impressions used to be an easy way to measure performance, we now see that this model often backfires. Instead of increasing brand awareness, advertisers risk tarnishing the brand and exhausting potential customers who otherwise might be interested in making a purchase.

Related: All Impressions Are NOT Created Equal

A quality-based approach, meanwhile, can help mitigate these risks and provide a much stronger connection to a brand. More than ever, today’s advertising requires an understanding of the high-value customers that are being pursued. While the ad content itself has always needed to reflect this understanding, advertisers now have even more incentive to place their ads in places that make sense.

The days of blanketing prospective customers with ad content and playing the numbers game are already winding down in favor of more refined targeting approaches, and it’s about time.

High Context vs. Low Context Ad Experiences

When looking to connect a brand with high-value audiences, finding an entry point is invaluable. Beyond the ad’s quality, the overall experience also needs to be considered for maximum ROI. An ad can be an entertaining and brilliant encapsulation of a brand’s selling points, yet it can still fail to have an impact in the wrong environment. Ads need to find their way to decision-makers who are in a position to move forward with a purchase.

The answer appears to be in the context that an ad is placed, as ads that align with a consumer’s current interests give an advertiser a major advantage. Studies show that there is a 13% bump in engagement for a high-context ad compared to a low-context one. This might seem modest, but the number actually represents a significant uptick in brand awareness. When extrapolated, a high-context ad means more direct purchases, better brand recall, and more word-of-mouth buzz that can enhance future sales.

Instead of thinking about an ad in isolation, advertisers favoring high-context approaches can focus on better overall experiences that fit a consumer’s lifestyle. In the race to connect with the right audiences, a higher quality experience reflects well on the brand and even encourages consumers to pay more attention the next time a brand is on display.

Thinking Beyond Personal Devices

Part of the issue with third-party cookie models is that they’re too reliant upon our attachments to our personal devices. We’re not giving up phones or smartwatches any time soon, but we could be moving beyond the peak days of staring down at our own screens. Consumers are working less often from home than they had been and are more comfortable socializing in person than in mid-2020. This translates to a more mobile consumer base seeing an increasing number of external screens than in the recent past. 

And as we move further from the pandemic, these changes represent an enormous opportunity for advertisers hoping to expand the reach of their brands. The DOOH market, which focuses on digital advertising in communal spaces, is still in the early stages of moving toward its massive growth potential. Screens in spaces like apartment elevators, office lobbies, and other common areas are places where people tend to look up from their phones.

They’re also spaces ideally suited to contextually relevant advertising approaches. Digitally displayed content that is entertaining or directly relevant (e.g., local weather or travel updates) encourages engagement, which can then be supported by ads that fit the context. By matching content with ads in a shared digital space, advertisers can directly appeal to the exact high-value audience they’re looking for. And when it’s done well, it can even be the opening act of a conversation starter among mutuals who are happy to take a break from their own devices.

The Importance of Location for Placing Ads in the Right Context

The “location, location, location” real-estate mantra may be more of a cliché than wisdom by now, but it’s becoming more and more relevant for advertising. The right location can be critical in helping a digital marketer pinpoint an audience and create an impactful strategy. Carefully choosing locations can also be a terrific step toward improving an ad’s context and offering a higher-quality consumer experience.

Offices and luxury apartment buildings, for example, offer unique strategic advantages because advertisers can get a much better sense of the clientele. Not only do advertisers have an easier time matching the ad to the prospective customer, but they know – broadly speaking – that they are reaching decision-makers with the capital to take the next step. 

By limiting their approach and focusing on location, advertisers can more easily find high-value audiences and maximize their ROI. And by fitting the ad to the context, advertisers are in an excellent position to find consumers in their most available moments without relying upon intrusive third-party data.

Versatility in Contextual Ad Targeting

As consumers become accustomed to contextual targeting instead of cookie-based strategies, the effect of this approach is likely to increase. The versatility of contextual approaches is also on display when advertisers shift into the DOOH market. While finding premium locations is one part of this equation, ads must complement the other content being displayed – whether it’s news briefs, entertaining snippets, lifestyle tips, or other types of content.

Related: Captivate and WeWork: The Impact of Our New Partnership on Agencies and Brands

To maximize the potential here, advertisers need to work within networks that specialize in creating quality impressions. When it comes to digital screens, systems that can measure engagement and connect content with the right ads will give the appearance of a seamless process, enhancing a brand’s impact.

Advertisers also need to ensure that the content corresponding with the ads is engaging and thoughtful. This is harder to control when a consumer is on a personal device but can be more effectively moderated elsewhere. Only with content that is carefully curated can an advertiser move away from the quantity-based approach and fully benefit from contextual targeting. With supportive content that is a good fit for the brand, ads will be in a position to thrive.

Overall, it’s hard to overstate the importance of having a versatile digital ad strategy in today’s fast-paced world. While there are no surefire answers in advertising, contextually relevant approaches seem built to last no matter what type of content is being produced in the future. Advertisers who focus on context alongside accurate targeting have a winning strategy for moving from personal devices to digital screens that capture attention when its most available. 

And as the playing field shifts to match flexible consumer attitudes, carefully syncing content with ads should remain a dynamic strategy that can reach the intended audience in any macro environment.

Finding the Audience That Fits Your Brand

Brands that can generate engagement where professionals live and work will have a tremendous advantage. As older digital ad models continue to fade, understanding the importance of context is already an essential part of advertising. Pairing the right content with an ad can diminish fatigue and increase brand recall, creating meaningful consumer engagement instead of indifference. In the rush to generate quality impressions, context can be a linchpin of the entire consumer experience.

Even for the busiest professionals, digital screens in common areas can be a fresh path to engaging with a brand. With curated content built with the upscale professional in mind, Captivate’s premium locations can help you connect with the high-value audiences you’re looking for. Contact our team of experts for more on how Captivate can improve your brand’s footprint through contextual targeting.  

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