Context Trumps Audience For Native Targeting

Programmatic media buying changed the game for ad targeting.  What was once a cumbersome process of network- or site-based outreach and analysis became an exercise in real-time execution. Impressions are now valued on both contextual and audience relevance, employing sophisticated models that may place significantly greater weight on either context or audience, based on the objectives of the campaign.

For example, if a user recently visited a retailer’s site, added an item to the shopping cart, and did not convert, the audience targeting for an in-market, highly recent shopper would far outweigh any considerations of contextual relevance. Conversely, a branding campaign for a large auto manufacturer may focus more on contextual relevance, targeting sites like Motor Trend, Car and Driver, etc., and only considering audience to the extent that per-user impression targets are met.

While native advertising is quickly becoming available through programmatic channels, media planners need to consider the inherent distinctions between native and display when formulating the targeting parameters for their campaigns. Editorial-driven native advertising -- where the publisher hosts a sponsored article on behalf of an advertiser -- presents important considerations. Here the alignment between brand and editorial voice is paramount.

Users will only consume native ads when they are reading a feed or an article -- meaning only when their mindset is geared toward consuming relevant content.  If a consumer finds a sponsored post about ovens on Car and Driver, it may fundamentally alter his perception of the site, no matter how interested in ovens -- or ready to actually buy an oven -- that reader may be.  Targeting primarily on audience with off-topic, irrelevant in-feed advertising may be a jarring experience and actually reduce the efficacy of the messaging, as well as undermine a publisher's editorial focus.

Non-editorial native advertising, where the content clicks through to the brand’s site, has less risk of editorial dilution than hosted content, but consumers are still not accustomed to seeing completely irrelevant content in their feeds. It is imperative to consider consumer expectations, which have been set such that while there is no requirement for banner ads to match the nature of a site’s editorial content, everything else on the site adheres to a higher standard.

The implication for brands is that for native advertising, contextual targeting is significantly more important than audience targeting -- an ironic swing back to the traditional pre-digital notion that context is king. Furthermore, this means that a single piece of content is not sufficient for broad targeting. While a single banner ad can be targeted across the Web to effectively reach a cross-section of users, brands must create a variety of content-targeted messages based on their objectives, and the user-interest overlap of the demographics they are seeking to target. Only when a brand has produced contextual content -- if it’s bought programmatically -- should it optimize by selecting users to target with their relevant content.

3 comments about "Context Trumps Audience For Native Targeting".
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  1. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, November 19, 2014 at 12:45 p.m.

    Thanks for reinforcing the argument that "Just in time" relevant marketing information placed within sought out relevant content is the silver bullet for both marketers and publishers. For almost 20 years The Auto Channel has been fighting the entrenched "truth" that the web offers marketers big reach like TV, instead of targeted direct mail like impact.

  2. Kevin Lenane from Integral Ad Science, November 19, 2014 at 1:07 p.m.

    Great piece. In the world of video advertising - everything is audience and demographic centric since TV is done that way. We lose out on huge amounts of ad revenue as a result of missing the instantaneous interest of user/viewer and open ourselves up to brand safety, viewability and in-banner format issue. In native this issue just happens to be even more visible since the video, if targeted by only demographic can be so starkly off the message and content that the user if viewing while the native video ad appears. If we use content (context) to target a native video ad we have a much more succinct viewing experience and (as data shows) the completion, engagement, brand lift and every other metric that gets measured increases as a result of this practice. Native video really highlights the problem with this singular approach and this piece really does a great job of illuminating the advantages of a more contextual method. Great stuff!

  3. Aimee Kessler evans from Blast PR, November 21, 2014 at 11:46 a.m.

    Great article. I would argue that to be successful, the levers for both audience and context need to be adjusted accurately. No, I don't want to see oven on "Car and Driver," but if I'm not in the market for ovens, I don't want to see them on "Good Housekeeping" either. I'm an advocate for native, but targeting is everything, and it has to damn near perfect to work for advertiser, publisher and consumer.

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