Can contextual ad targeting work as well as interest- or occupation-based targeting?
That question has become very relevant these days, in light of the consent requirements and other limitations surrounding personal and third-party data.
To help answer that question, two London-based firms — performance-based online agency Roast and ad platform Teads — decided to conduct a test, which is covered in a recently released white paper, “The Enduring Effectiveness of Contextual Targeting” [free, email required]. Roast’s head of mobile/display and paper co-author Lucy Cunningham told me that, to her knowledge, this is the first test of its kind.
The word “enduring” in the paper title relates to the fact that classical modern advertising, such as in the TV- and print-oriented days depicted in the “Mad Men” TV series, was fundamentally contextual. Advertisers bought ads on, say, sports events to reach men and soap operas to reach women.
This contrasts with the data-based approach of current digital marketing, where advertisers commonly show ads to site or app visitors whose cookie-based profiles indicate, say, they are women ages 18-34 on the West Coast. For many ads, the content in which the ad is shown is a way of attracting those kinds of users, but it often doesn’t govern which ad is shown.
But does one way work better than the other? If not, contextual-based ads are compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) because they don’t require personal data. They could be cheaper to manage because the advertiser wouldn’t have to buy third-party data, or ask and track consent permissions, or rely on lightning-fast but highly complex programmatic platforms to recognize the right kind of visitor and immediately serve that ad.