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Context Becomes More Important in Flight to Quality

After content, context is now king. One of the reasons Facebook and Google advertising  have captured so much of the digital ad market is that they, especially Google, are able to target ads according to keywords. AdSense and Facebook use different methodologies, but they’re both known for their precise targeting. They have glaring weaknesses, however, especially as more and more digital advertising is video.

With video ads it is still a major problem is that so many ads run without context, even though they may be closely “targeted” to a demographic or a geography. They still run without context, because we don’t quite have the tools yet –nor the will– to provide video context totally programmatically.  Especially on YouTube there are many instances where we’re increasingly seeing pre-roll and mid-roll that has nothing to do with what the audience is actually wanting to see. This is not a plea for the old TV practices of selling sweetened cereal to youthful audiences, but a heads up to brands who care about “delighting” rather than alienating their customers.

A golden age is coming for contextual advertising, as a result of two things: 1) the realization on the part of brands that they’re threatened by Amazon and other services, and 2) the propensity of younger audiences to require corporations to reveal their values. To encourage brand loyalty, marketers will have to do what they should have been doing all along: buying travel ads on travel sites. sports ads on sports sites.

If you throw in the effects of GDPR, as a potential third motivator, we believe it is becoming increasingly important to brands to understand where their ads are appearing, as well as who the publications’s audience is. If I’m looking to fix my truck and I’m about to watch a video about suspension problems, I might be a millennial  in the midwest and white, but ads for sports, hot dogs, or video games are merely an interruption. Let me just watch how this guy replaces his front suspension so I can do the same thing to my truck.

What if I could see an ad for the right car parts,  for local mechanics, or even for new trucks? This is called contextual advertising, and back in the day when more ads were sold direct, as a media buyer I could be sure I was getting  that kind of context. As an advertiser, that would give me much greater potential ROI. It would also fix that feeling most consumers have that they’d just as soon skip the irrelevant ad as soon as possible.

We’re making an appeal to the digital ad industry to think before buying and selling ads programmatically without context. One of the reasons consumers no longer tolerate advertising its its lack of relevance to the moment they are in. And that doesn’t have to be the case. With all the tools we have at our disposal — artificial intelligence, mounds of first party data, and great programmatic services, there’s no reason why we can’t do better. Both publishers and consumers deserve that.

Context: The Most Important Mobile Ad Attribute

Publishers have had to have a mobile strategy for quite a while now, but in the past year many have realized they have to be mobile first, or even mobile only to meet their customers. This has required a new understanding of context — how to reach those customers, understand them, and offer them services that do not offend.

This requires an understanding of context: what devices and screens their users are on, the patterns of usage, which networks they’re on, what plans they’re on, and more. In human history no other devices has presented such challenges.

For most users, mobile means apps, especially for digital media consumption.

A study by cross-device identity and advertising platform provider Drawbridge found that in just six months, from August to December of 2016, the top 15 ad-supported iOS apps grew 32.5% in monthly unique users to nearly 137 million, while the top 15 ad-supported Android apps grew five percent to 606 million monthly uniques.

In 2016, for the first time, mobile surpassed desktop as a means of consuming digital media, and equally important was the growth in mobile advertising, which also surpassed desktop.

In mobile, context takes many forms. Creators have come to realize that mobile is a new surface, and that they can’t just re-package their old content, TV ads, or display ads. Mobile can tolerate special sized vertical video, swiping in multiple directions, and geolocation. It is far more interactive than the desktop, and therefore open to bigger challenges as well as opportunities.

Publishers must be able to know whether a visitor is viewing their content on the subway, standing in a store, walking, or just waiting to know what kind of ad that person would be willing to see. As Grapeshot points out,

In the mobile sphere, the content being consumed in the moment sends powerful signals as to the context of the person consuming and interacting with it.

Contextual understanding adds a layer beyond what audience data can provide. Knowing what media are being consumed signals a person’s current state of mind, their current preferences, even their level of engagement and degree of attention.

Correctly executed, contextual advertising puts brand messages where consumers will accept and even welcome them. It also protects brands from dreadful adjacencies, such as hate speech, porn, and terrorist propaganda.

A few years ago, a startup then named Proximic tried to sell the idea of brand safety to both advertisers and publishers. It had the capacity to scan over a hundred languages in real time to find brand safe locations for ads. No one seemed to care. The company was sold to ComScore, and is now called Activation, but now Grapeshot has come along,  and using similar machine learning algorithms to target suitable ad placements.  And on mobile, the suitability of placements has become far more important.

For example, since most of consumption activity takes place in apps, it is imperative to understand the context of apps into which messaging can appear safely without either compromising brand safety or interrupting a consumer intent on an experience. Page-level understanding of what’s inside apps is still in its infancy and the industry is still using workarounds developed by verification services like MOAT.

But these are tools for the post-bid environment, and the problem won’t be solved until we find a pre-bid solution.