The mantra for the digital age is “content is king.” But without context, content is a king without a crown. Context is the surrounding environment adding relevance and meaning to content. Unless content is placed in the right context, with consideration to the reader’s intent, it will be worthless.
Before advertising started to turn to third-party advertising networks and audience re-targeting, the relationship between content and context was clearer. Certain publications targeted specific audiences, and advertising could be placed where it made the most sense while reaching what was assumed to be the right audience. Think Norwegian Cruise Lines being advertised in Condé Nast Traveler, for instance.
Now that digital display is focusing more on audience targeting, advertisers seem to be hitting the right audience, but unfortunately, often at completely the wrong moment.
The finesse is in serving content that is not just fine-tuned for the specific audience but also to the context of the surrounding content the audience is viewing. After all, a site visitor might not be interested in deals on cruises when she is looking for advice on a snapped Achilles tendon. The user is in a completely different frame of mind.
Another classic example of advertising being placed out of context is when premium brands unknowingly place their ads on sites that are anything but premium themselves. Think Swiss Bank advertising on Uncle Tony’s summer fun blog.
Re-targeting can also provoke a stalking sensation, which should be another wake-up call for the industry. I booked, paid for and took a trip to New Zealand two months ago. Despite how much I enjoyed it, I am unlikely to need another hotel there any time soon. Please stop showing me ads if they are no longer relevant!
Making context integral to content
In this framework, context is the measure of matching a user’s profile with relevant content in the right environment. As targeted advertising and programmatic buying become de facto in ad sales, systems need to become more sophisticated and more human. Brands need to move beyond targeting people based solely on who they are, and shift toward targeting based on what that individual is doing right now.
Content (advertising or otherwise) needs to be responsive to the total environment in which it is served. Digital advertising and content recommendations precisely targeted to the right users are complex processes, but emerging technologies manage the complexity and source insight from existing and real-time behavioral and contextual data.
Reconnecting the disconnect
While media buying becomes more programmatic – focusing largely on cookie-based, isolated information about a user – emerging tools enable publishers to target not only the right users, but the right users while they are in the right frame of mind. Publishers are at last in a position to offer efficiency, targeting accuracy, and effectiveness based on an understanding of a user’s intent at a given moment. These systems are built specifically to create great contextual user experiences: ensuring that the mighty “content” king is never left without his “context” crown again.