This post is part of our #AdContext Matters series. 

The line in question is often some variation of how digital advertising is about matching an ad message to the right person, in the right place, at the right time. While this is an admirable goal for marketers to undertake, it’s an oversimplification of the technological possibilities and challenges within programmatic buying. And as programmatic has brought increased attention to data management platforms (DMPs) and audience data, the emphasis on finding this combination of ‘right’ conditions is incorrectly skewed toward the audience component more than ever. 

This constant need for marketers to find the right person means that many have lost focus on the importance of context. In an age when data-powered advertising is exploding, context needs to play a major role in making informed programmatic advertising decisions. 

Contextual relevance is about so much more than the content on a page. Context in programmatic buying includes factors like the consumer’s physical location, the app they’re in, and the weather in their area. There is also the context of experience, and if the consumer had previously seen an ad and engaged with it, as well as the consumer’s frame of mind. 

All of these factors can deliver major lifts to ad campaigns. A recent study by the Guardian found that contextual relevance boosted campaign effectiveness across several consumer perceptions, with 23% more consumers seeing a benefit in the ad placement, and 18% more feeling positively towards the advertiser. 

So where has context gone in advertising? It’s been glossed over in the quest for simplicity in a very complicated programmatic landscape. Many programmatic solutions today look only at keywords or domain-based indicators to determine a page’s content. Rarely do they leverage true page-level data, or any of the other contextual factors described above. 

It’s easy to see how algorithms can make false positives or miss ad opportunities if they make assumptions based on simple data sets. For example, an article about an entrepreneur who develops a mobile app for booking travel reservations covers several different content categories that appeal to advertisers, including tech, entrepreneurship, and travel. But if the publisher places that article in the lifestyle section of their site, then most programmatic engines will only match up lifestyle advertisers with the opportunity, because that’s the information they derive from the URL. In this instance, better contextual data would help advertisers seize a missed opportunity. 

Some marketers may turn to keywords to overcome situations like this, developing lists of multiple keyword combinations so that they don’t miss crucial opportunities for delivering relevant messages. And while keywords are effective, developing detailed lists can bog a marketer down very quickly. This is a layer of complexity that marketers shouldn’t have to deal with, especially because we already know that the content on the page is only one factor in determining context. It’s important to use a wide-ranging contextual data solution in this instance.

Context is about more than targeting as well. Contextual data can be used with dynamic creative optimisation to inform creative decisions and help deliver the best message permutation for a placement. When used in combination with audience data, it’s even more powerful, increasing the value of that unique audience data and allowing for even more precise targeting that matches a message to a consumer on a great number of factors.

Context improves brands’ overall data strategy – it helps leading marketers enhance and personalise their creative through richer data signals, and makes media relevance work for them, rather than against them. The idea of context may be missing from advertising right now, but it’s time for advertisers to bring it back.

This post originally appeared in IAB UK.

Additional #AdContext Matters pieces:

Zach Schapira