Tech viewpoint on contextual advertising
A view from Marcus Taylor

Tech viewpoint on contextual advertising

Contextually personalised advertising is not new. However, intelligent technology and big data are about to take this effective form of advertising to a whole new level.

In 2012, President Obama commissioned 50 experts to use analytical models to run one of the most hypertargeted ad campaigns of all time. Unlike the majority of political ad campaigns, it didn’t target people by demographics or psychographics; it targeted each person in a neighbourhood based on their personal behaviour. While one person may have been targeted with a flyer, their next-door neighbour may have been targeted with a brochure or a Facebook ad.

The fundamentals of advertising and marketing never change. One of the principles of advertising is that the more personally relevant a message is to a person, the more likely it is to influence that person’s behaviour.

Online advertising is extremely effective because it can be extremely relevant. It is relevant because it uses data to show the right ad to the right person. However, it doesn’t always show the ad at the right time, which is why context is an area many online channels are trying to crack.

If you can show a person who is hungry and enjoys McDonald’s an ad for the fast-food chain ten seconds before they walk past a branch, you have a good chance of influencing that person’s behaviour.

This is where offline channels have a huge opportunity. Using facial-recognition cameras and personal-data sources, digital billboards can serve ads to the right people in the right place at the right time. You could even display different prices to different people.

Internet-enabled televisions could use personal and behavioural data from social networks to serve the right ads at the right time. In fact, some video ad companies have developed real-time ad detection technology that replaces ads in TV shows and films with relevant ones.

Internet-enabled TVs could use personal and behavioual data to serve the right ads

Of course, there are ethical considerations. Is it right for advertisers to use our personal data to make such targeted ads? Is using facial-recognition technology and behavioural data going too far?

While I don’t have answers to these questions, I think the matter is largely one of permission. As we’ve seen with the norm of sharing vast amounts of personal data with companies such as Facebook, ad platforms will use defaults and nudges to create new norms that work in favour of the advertisers that fund their businesses.

From the advertisers’ perspective, contextual advertising is like having an army of 500 snipers firing 500 perfectly aimed shots at the enemy. In the same metaphor, traditional advertising is like having a bunch of soldiers firing shotguns in the enemy’s general direction, hoping to hit as many as possible. The first is just more effective and more efficient.

Marcus Taylor is the founder and chief executive at Venture Harbour