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Time to Think Context, Not Reach

The digital advertising business is in a state of chaos and turmoil. Twenty years ago, the first display ads produced high click through rates (CTRs) and plenty of subsequent conversions–enough for them to be called performance ads. But over the decades, consumers have developed “banner blindness,” and publishers have seen a race of revenues to the bottom.

Advertisers, who pay the bills, have seen a lower ROI on campaigns, which has forced them to buy more ads, and has forced publishers to load their sites with boxes, banners and takeovers. Page load times slowed, and a dash of fraud and malware completed a disturbing picture.

And then came mobile.  With mobile, consumers had the opportunity to turn off ads in large numbers, because the ad blocking software early adopters had already downloaded was automatically included  for the average Joe in Apple’s latest mobile operating system.

Angry consumers who had been targeted and re-targeted turned off ads altogether.

The industry badly needs a savior. That savior will have to offer narrower targeting and more context for consumers, so they only see ads they want. It will change the way media planners buy media. They should no longer buy for “reach,” but for relevance.

The stakeholders in the current ecosystem are the agencies, retailers, and brands on the demand side (the advertisers), publishers, social networks, and apps where those consumers are already spending time, and the coveted object, the purchaser.  With mobile, locating consumers is easy: there are a small number of apps that consumers use for search, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, Yelp and they’ve largely aggregated the buyers.  Companies like RetailMeNot and PocketMath, which deliver mobile coupons, need to find those consumers only while they are shopping. Context is everything.

It would be helpful if every product in every store in the community were geotagged, and if you wanted to buy a Diet Coke you’d only see an ad for the places near you offering Diet Coke. You wouldn’t get ads for stores not in your geography, nor for products that were not Diet Coke. This would enable Real Time Bidding (RTB) platforms to deliver a truly contextual experience. This has been what’s been wrong with RTB platforms  up to now; they’re delivering without context.

Most research says people don’t consider ads for products they’re actually shopping for bad. Rather, they are perceived as information or content. How many times have YOU typed “gas station near me” or “Chinese food near me” into your phone? The ads and listings that come up are perceived as information. All too often, advertisers impatient for reach have made media buys too broad in their targeting. The advertisers need better data. And so do the publishers.

Mobile advertising is a rapidly growing data thirsty industry, and consumers are dissatisfied because the targeting is too broad and without context. In mobile, reaching a large number of people is less important than reaching the single right person at the right time — which is when they’re actually looking for something.