Redefining Context

When we talk about “context” in digital marketing, we usually mean putting ads in places that are broadly relevant to the product. 

For example, I might place an ad for car insurance on car review sites or target it to appear in the search results of people searching for related keywords on Google. 

These are still important tactics. But thanks to recent leaps in technology, it is now possible to take advantage of far more sophisticated, relevant and effective ways to make advertising contextually relevant to consumers. 

When planning an advertising strategy, it is important to consider the many micro-contextual factors which will affect the way individual consumers will experience our ads. With the right systems in place, it’s known when ads are seen in addition to their precise physical location and the specific device they’re being viewed on.



It is even possible to know the individual user the ad is being shown to. Tracking data is strictly anonymous; however, it is still possible to detect which ads have been seen before and how that person has responded to the ad – without knowing specifics such as a name or address.

Many digital practitioners are already using all of this information to optimize their marketing campaigns. They’re often assisted by programmatic algorithms, which can make instantaneous decisions about which advertising message to show in each unique situation and how much it’s worth paying to show it. 

Thanks to advances in advertising technology, a large number of contextual factors can now be analyzed and optimized to match the best possible ad to every specific situation. Media relevance is just one of many factors we must account for, so it no longer makes sense to refer to the discipline of media planning. Context planning would be a far more appropriate way to describe it.

In fact, great advertising campaigns have always been informed by (and adapted to) context – just at a much wider, macro level. Insights into human psychology and cultural trends led to groundbreaking campaigns like Volkswagen’s “Think Small” back in the ’60s. Volkswagen realized that many Americans believed in simple, pragmatic values and were alienated by the “big is beautiful” message which many car advertisers thought suitable for an emerging superpower.

The same type of macro-contextual awareness of society and culture has continued to separate the truly great campaigns of more recent years. For example, Dove recognized the gap between the reality of everyday beauty and the false airbrushed beauty of fashion advertising.

As digital marketers rush to adapt and optimize their campaigns to the specific micro-contextual factors that define individual advertising impressions, remember that every ad interaction would still occur within a broader macro context beyond the reach of tracking cookies and programmatic algorithms.

To create advertising campaigns which can be adapted to the individual in the moment, while also resonating with society at large, it is necessary  to combine both micro and macro context. In other words, bicontextual advertising is essential.

1 comment about "Redefining Context".
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  1. Tom Goodwin from Tomorrow, June 16, 2014 at 8:31 p.m.

    Not sure about "bicontextual", I think it all just makes one context, which happens to include everything. What we need is dynamic creative that takes advantage of that context.

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