The Resurgence of Contextual Advertising as Consumers Opt for Privacy

Gary Portney

Behavioral targeting is dead; Contextual advertising is back

Years ago, before banner blindness, an ad at every turn, pop-ups, mind numbing, poor quality advertising and programmatic came into the digital landscape, there was contextual advertising. You know, high quality ads on websites that were relevant to the sites’ mission, audiences and specific page content driven by keyword targeting.Well contextual advertising is back with a vengeance and about to come roaring back thanks to multiple industry, consumer and regulatory drivers.

Brand protection

Advertisers have become increasingly skeptical about the value that their digital agencies provide in the modern digital era and are taking control of their media buying, digital creative development and spend in-house. They have become weary  of not getting value for their money, a decent return on investment in a murky world where there is little to no transparency, few key performance standard and analytics that can be applied and agency decisions, particularly when it comes to programmatic buying. The move to buying  in-house overcomes these concerns, ensuring brand protection and gives control back to the very people to whom it means the most.Then there is programmatic advertising itself.

While not all, many of these platforms have recklessly abandoned the value of a brand in favor of just making as much money as possible. Little consideration is given as to where a brand’s ads are and ultimately placed, leading to inevitable consequences. Think automaker ads appearing on adult  sites. This has led to brands having to monitor the thousands of websites that their ads appear on which defeats much of the purpose of programmatic in the first place.

Behavioral targeting - enter the regulators

Many forms of digital advertising are based on behavioral targeting of individuals rather than contextual targeting of a websites audience and interests . In May, Techcrunch quoted an earlier study by IHS Markit, suggesting that as much as 86% of programmatic advertising in Europe was using behavioral data and a quarter (24%) of non-programmatic advertising was found to be using behavioral data as well.Underpinning most behavioral targeting is the infamous cookie, a 1990’s technology which has  morphed significantly since then. The cookie however has been used to do some pretty nefarious things when it comes to consumer data protection. Identifying personal data and tracking a consumer are but two examples of data that can be subsequently stored on servers. Worse still these platforms make  enormous amounts of money from the sale of that personal data. This capture and misuse of personal data has resulted in such an outcry that regulators have stepped in. In Europe, GDPR was implemented in May of last year. One of the worst antagonists , Facebook had to agree to a $5bn penalty settlement  in June this year and causing Facebook last month to declare their need for a “whole new level of accountability”. Also here in the states,  we have seen Congress introducing the new CONSENT Act and individual states, California being the first, establishing The California Consumer Privacy Act, which will come into effect in January 2020; America’s own version of GDPR.Behavioral targeting has been at the heart of the issues that have enraged consumers and forced regulators to act. However, unlike behavioral advertising, contextual advertising complies with the legislation. It does not require or use personal data. It is another major factor pointing to the demise of behavioral targeting in favor of contextual.

The rise of direct buying

Bringing all the above threads together, the questionable  value of digital agencies, the desire to protect the brand, have control of the wallet and avoid regulatory penalties, we have seen an increase in major brands using contextual advertising driven by direct buys: Brands buying inventory on publisher sites that attract their desired demographic audience. It’s the perfect example of bringing ads into context, getting the right information to the right consumer. In the right place, at the right time.

It’s a moment of truth

The truth being that brands are fed up with the status quo and they are taking action. It’s a huge win not only for them but publishers and consumers as well. But where there are winners, there are losers as well. Agencies and behaviorally based Ad Tech, be advised.

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