Out-of-Context Ad Targeting: A Sleeping Giant?
Quite frequently, the out-of-context ads will outperform those that are delivered in-context, sometimes dramatically so.
In case study research from its On Target services presented in March, 24/7 Real Media found that "Gamers" were much more likely to respond to game-related ads presented within health or news content than they were to those same ads presented within game-related content.
Our industry has seen similar results in numerous other case studies including those involving brands BMW, Mitsubishi, Budget, and Snapple, where out-of-context targeting generated brand awareness, purchase intent, and response rates that were four to 20 times higher than their in-context results. I suspect that if you talked to folks at companies like Yahoo! and AOL's Advertising.com, and targeting services providers like Poindexter, Revenue Science, and DrivePM, you would hear similar stories. All have probably seen their fair share of "unusual" out-of-context targeting successes.
Why does this happen? It seems counterintuitive in an industry with a long offline heritage of using "editorial adjacency" as a baseline requirement and which basks in the glow of the extraordinary results generated by contextually-driven online search ads.
I have heard a number of theories on the issue. One, is that when you deliver ads within certain types of research-intensive content, such as automotive features or travel planners, that the ads are in competition for the consumers' attention with the content, and the content frequently wins. Another, is that content with strong commercial context is in great demand by advertisers, and thus is generally quite cluttered with their ads, since publishers frequently have significantly more ad units on these pages than they do on their content pages with little commercial context, like general news or sports. Finally, some have argued that it is a known characteristic of human nature that consumers are more likely to notice and remember something that is different. In other words, out-of-context messages stand out better than in-context ones, particularly if they happen to pertain to something that the consumer is interested in.
Whatever the reason, as more research and more case studies are developed in this area, this phenomenon could have a very significant impact on the online ad industry.
It could create new ways of thinking about media placements. Coordinating out-of-context placements with in-context placements would add a new dynamic to media planning and buying. On the sell-side, it could dramatically change the way absolutions are packaged and sold.
It could create new value in vast tracks of underutilized Web inventory. It has been estimated that as much of one-half of the page views of the major content sites lack a valuable "commercial context." Pages that were previously hard to sell, from shorthand general news to e-mail and weather, might now be able to deliver premium value for advertisers and suddenly find themselves in significant demand. This could be part of the answer to the general scalability challenge currently facing the online ad industry.
Finally, this could create exciting new opportunities for creatives. With the need for out-of-context advertising, one could expect an entirely new type of creative messaging. We could expect to see opportunities to tell stories more like television, where the emphasis tends to be much more on the audience and much less on the content.
Out-of-context advertising: counterintuitive? Yes. Powerful? Certainly seems so.