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Chris Laas
Chris Laas

The fourth in our Catapult series on the evolving relationship we have with data, Chris Laas, our Head of Digital Marketing, jumps into contextual advertising and future targeting opportunities.

In our last article we looked at the how you can make the most of your First-party data, a key opportunity for us when third-party cookie data becomes extinct. This time we are shifting our attention towards another opportunity we mentioned in our first article -  and it is in some ways back to the future; context is king … or rather contextual targeting is king!

Publishers are already ahead of the game, developing better ways to commercialise their visitors in the wake of the third-party cookie demise. Using their first-party data together with smart algorithms they predict behaviours and interests, of which they then offer this to advertisers. This offers you excellent opportunities with contextual targeting, with better advertiser sponsored content formats and more sophisticated cross media measurement. Such opportunities are already being taken advantage by brands, according to a recent 2019 survey done by YouGov. In this survey, they found that almost half of all U.S. businesses rely on contextual targeting methods, and nearly one third of UK businesses use it.


Didn’t contextual targeting go away, I hear you say? No, it didn’t. Contextual advertising was, for a period in time, arguably among the more dominant forms of digital advertising. The problem was that it was not very popular because its performance was lower than targeting using third party cookies. Fast forward to today, look ahead to future and this negative has turned into an opportunity. Contextual targeting does not require third party cookies, thus offering advertisers a suitable alternative to the challenges they are facing with the demise of the third-party cookie. Targeting audiences can now be done with contextual advertising, thanks to its greater assurance and security that targeting consumers by content is a more privacy-friendly practice. Ultimately, it’s a safe bet!

In the past, brand safety had thrown up various issues when it came to contextual targeting. We are sure you can recall both some funny and embarrassing misalignments, that still haunt various marketeers and give them sleepless nights. Nowadays there is far less of a risk of this, with machine learning and AI powered technologies providing a more accurate understanding of content. Brands are in a position where they can target various audiences, in a brand safe way, which includes sentiment analysis. This greatly mitigates the pitfalls around sensitive content that has the potential cause damage to your brand. 


Apart from the key reasons contextual targeting is making a comeback, here are a some of the key benefits to name just a few:

  • New advertising opportunities – New AI tools, such as computer vision, make it possible to understand the context of what consumers see on a webpage, which creates a range of new advertising opportunities and content formats on sites that highlight a product, brand, or topic through an image or gallery rather than text.
  • Less guesswork - With contextual targeting, you can deliver marketing messages to consumers when you know they’re in a particular situation or frame of mind, and therefore taking much of the guesswork out of advertising. This approach gives brands a chance to engage with specific, and receptive, audiences – ultimately leading to improved accuracy and a more impressive return on investment.
  • Anti-ad fatigue – With the advancement of AI powered technologies, you now have much better ways to understand whether or not to place an ad next to a piece of content. This improves its value to the consumer and therefore has a positive effect on ad fatigue as the viewer sees advertising in the very best place for them.
  • Relevancy – As an advertiser, you have the opportunity to enhance the ad experience with personalised and relevant ad creative and target consumers, who have become tired of non-relevant ad creatives, simply based on the context of the webpage they are engaging with.

Contextual targeting should be a no-brainer for brands looking to get closer to customers with relevant, engaging content. It is evident there is a lot of benefits to contextual targeting and a lot of opportunity, but what are your next steps?

As publishers continue to innovate at a rapid place, developing capabilities to target consumers and allow us to get even closer to our customers, contextual targeting will become even more valuable. Current technology means that contextual signals can be determined by consumer behavioural insights rather than human inference. At eBay Advertising, for example, they have recently been developing new cookie-less targeting capabilities, which bring together dynamic audience segments based on contextual signals as well as key shopper intent signals – all powered by eBay’s search science algorithm. By combining real-time (contextual) and historical shopping behaviours, brands can deliver campaigns with greater accuracy and impact.

It is important you start taking steps to look for new partners, like eBay Advertising, to partner with and include them in your marketing plans. You may find it interesting to know that Google (Adsense) is no longer the biggest player in contextual targeting. Currently, many media buyers and DSPs do not rely on Google’s contextual category information and instead use the services of other contextual targeting providers. We recommend you consider some of the following partners;, Oracle owned Grapeshot,, Yahoo/Bing Ads, ComScore, and Peer39.


Join us next time…

Keep your eyes peeled, next week, for the fifth instalment of our series. James Perrin, our Head of Content, will be talking creative dominance, advertising effectiveness will depend on great cut-through creative that gets attention, rather than relying on hyper-targeting from third-party data

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