How contextual advertising drives attention and avoids irritating consumers

Paul Thompson, UK country manager at Seedtag, laments irrelevant ads and explains how brands can get more positive engagement.

How contextual advertising drives attention and avoids irritating consumers

It’s getting harder to attract consumers’ attention. They have a lot of things on their minds right now, from paying the gas bill to filling their petrol tank.

When they do get the chance to switch off from the stresses of modern living and focus on some content they enjoy, there’s a good chance advertisers will ruin the experience. 

If I’m a passionate football fan absorbed in the battle for the Champions League, I don’t want to be jolted out of my viewing, whether on catch-up or an online match report, by an ad that makes me scratch my head and ask ‘Why?’ I want to immerse myself in my passion, and if I’m being sold to at least make it for related items like barbecue food or athleisure wear.

Or, for instance, if I’m a foodie, watching one of the new breed of upbeat, high-energy cooking shows or looking up ingredients, I’d like to see ads for kitchen knives or even a holiday relevant to the Italian dish I’m prepping. 

Consumers are demanding a better experience
Consumers are becoming increasingly impatient and frustrated with irrelevant ads and over-targeting, especially the supposed hyper-targeting that follows them around the web for months after they’ve visited a website. 

The big tech players like Apple and Google realise this and are making strides to develop a better user experience, with less intrusion and more control over personal information. Even the industry itself, through the Coalition for Better Ads and the IAB’s Gold Standard 2.0, is trying to correct the abuses of the past. 

In fact, Google has just announced more privacy control settings for users, which increase the ability to opt to see fewer ads on irrelevant topics. I imagine that has further rattled businesses that still rely on third-party tracking to target prospects, and adtech platforms that rely on the collections of data. These vendors are nearing extinction and rightly so, as we look to address the misuse of personal data and the pitiful wasting of consumers' attention. 

The ‘halo effect’ of contextual ads
These are certainly welcome moves, but the opportunity for positive engagement with audiences and a greater likelihood of conversion is much stronger if businesses serve contextually appropriate ads in the first place. People will devote more attention to the messaging, not just because they find it relatable, but also because it’s aligned to the content they’re consuming at that moment.

Don’t just take my word for it. Seedtag partnered with Nielsen to conduct in-depth research exploring the ‘halo effect’ of contextual targeting – whether consumers deeply engaged with their choice of content at a specific point in time would be more receptive to messaging from certain product categories or brands and feel more warmly towards them. 

The research surveyed 1,800 UK-based consumers across three different interest categories: automotive, food and drink, and beauty. The consumers were divided into four groups based on the different targeting strategies used within the advertising industry – no targeting, interest-based, demographic-based and contextual.

The top line? Contextually engaged consumers were 2.5x more interested in the category when no targeting was employed. And those who viewed contextually aligned ads were 32% more likely to act as a result of seeing the ad, compared to those who were exposed purely based on traditional demographics. Contextually situated ads were considered 60% more relevant than when no targeting was used, and 15% more than demographically targeted ads.

3 insights advertisers need to know...
The research highlights three particularly useful insights for advertisers. 

  1. Contextual ads do a really important job beyond the potential of triggering an immediate sale. They create a positive feeling and receptivity about the category and even make consumers more warmly disposed to future advertising.

    In the survey, those consumers targeted contextually felt 40% more excited about the category compared to those demographically targeted – and 28% more so than those who were targeted based solely on their interest in the category. And those who were shown contextual ads ultimately felt considerably less irritated towards the category; in contrast, those targeted based on demographic or interest parameters felt on average 60% more irritated.

  2. Contextually relevant advertising is a strong driver for specialist goods. Niche products in the beauty category showed the greatest benefit from contextual ad placement. Consumers interacting with sustainable beauty content and served relevant ads were 2.5x more likely to buy sustainable beauty products in the future.

  3. The research showed that the contextual approach delivers the possibility of reaching previously unidentified audiences, something of a holy grail for advertisers. We’re all guilty of stereotyping, and working with a pre-defined audience model can put the blinkers on. The beauty category, for instance, would traditionally target women, but the results showed that at least 70% of those men who were contextually engaged would consider purchasing sustainable or organic beauty products.

As consumers are increasingly concerned about their privacy and the quality of ads they encounter, it’s becoming more evident that traditional targeting strategies are no longer efficient for generating proper engagement. These survey results and insights should prompt greater discussion around targeting models. 

If the ultimate goal of advertising is to drive higher interaction and purchase intent, then contextual targeting has proven to be successful and smart marketers and planners should be investigating its potential. Certainly, it should be part of a campaign targeting mix alongside demographic data to maximise overall impact.

Now when will I be served an ad for the right wine to go with this pasta dish I’m researching?