Contextual targeting: Programmatic advertising's answer to targeting customers in a privacy-friendly manner

Saurabh Khattar, Country Manager of India at Integral Ad Science (IAS), programmatic advertising, its benefits, factors to consider, and the latest technologies that make programmatic advertising the need of the hour

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Contextual targeting: Programmatic advertising's answer to targeting customers in a privacy-friendly manner

Saurabh Khattar

Advertisers have always sought to protect their brands from risky content - things like hate speech, terrorism, and misinformation are generally recognised as threats to brand reputations. While each brand has a unique story to tell the ideal advertising environment is likely to be unique to a given brand.

In other words, an alcohol brand and a children’s brand might agree on what content to avoid, but they will likely have different ideas about what content environments they prefer. 

As the modern-day marketer continuously strives to improve the performance of his/ her digital campaigns, they are often on the lookout for tools and strategies that will help them deliver better results. Opting for programmatic advertising - a process that uses automation in buying and selling media - is one method to ensure higher efficiencies in digital campaigns while minimising wastage of ad spend budgets.

While the gambit of programmatic advertising is multi-faceted, let’s look at contextual targeting - a topic that has gained prominence in the past few years.

Soon, contextual targeting will be one of the solutions for cookieless targeting. One of the ad tech industry’s hottest topics, contextual targeting helps marketers create the ideal advertising environment to deliver an elevated ad-targeting experience for customers. In a digital landscape that seems like a revolving door for content, a successful contextual targeting strategy will set advertisers up for success. Whether your target is increasing brand awareness or brand suitability or brand safety, contextual targeting is the foundation pillar for successful programmatic advertising and should be a key focus in your campaign strategy. Let’s look at a few reasons why contextual targeting is so important:

Looking beyond binary decision-making with technology that comprehends content the way a human would

To give advertisers more control over their digital campaigns, contextual targeting, in a short amount of time, has rapidly advanced to a stage where predictive technology uses emotion and sentiment analysis to pre-screen pages and categorise content before a bid is even placed. The sentiment and semantics of a given webpage give programmatic buyers unprecedented precision for targeting content that is contextually relevant for a given brand or campaign to increase recognition, engagement, and favourability.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology offers full-page contextual analysis in real-time. It reads the content of a page like a human brain and can extract the context and semantics of the content, and understand the meaning and sentiment intended by the author. For example, in the sentence ‘I visited the Big Apple and went to the Apple store while eating an apple,’ the word Apple is used 3 times, each time with a different meaning. Natural Language Processing can distinguish between Apple in the context of a place, a company or a fruit.


Enhancing brand reputation by aligning with contextually relevant content

A study conducted on HP display ads to understand how display ads perform when in context versus out-of context revealed the impact of contextually relevant ads on attention and outcomes. The study tracked consumers’ attention to the visual stimuli, and they were able to compare the effectiveness of one HP ad alongside two different content environments. To understand how display ads perform when in context versus out of context, let’s look at the findings:

  • Contextual targeting strategies yield stronger consumer attention – The in-context ad was the first-page element consumers noticed. It took just 0.4s for consumers to notice the in-context ad vs. 1.0s to notice the out-of-context ad when viewing the article. 
  • Contextually relevant ads drive outcomes, significantly boosting brand favourability and consumer purchase intent – Purchase intent was higher among consumers who viewed the in-context ad, increasing by 14%. Additionally, the in-context ad generated higher brand favourability among participants, resulting in a 5% increase when compared with consumers viewing the out-of-context ad. 
  • In-context ads generate higher memorability and increase brand recall and awareness among consumers – Consumers were four times more likely to remember a brand, unaided, after seeing an in-context ad versus an out-of-context ad. In general, in-context display ads were more likely to be considered interesting, easy to read, clear and informative.

Context is powerful – you just have to see for yourself. 

Contextual targeting is not only useful to create an ad-targeting strategy but becomes essential in creating an avoidance strategy too. Before a bid is even placed to amplify your brand message.

Contextual Avoidance Examples


A privacy-friendly way to target customers and enhance their ad experience

Using a neutral and third-party vendor for programmatic advertising will give access to carefully curated targeting segments to optimise your programmatic strategy and reach your desired audience without the use of third-party cookies. In the post-cookie landscape, where zero- and first-party data will play a major role in shaping the future of digital advertising, more reliance will be placed on contextual targeting. This is the next stage of ad targeting, where the privacy of the customer takes precedence to provide them with a super-targeted ad-experience

Contextual relevance is effective in generating a positive impact on brand engagement, favourability, and memorability. This form of ad-targeting continues to develop as the advertising world navigates major changes. The intent has clearly shifted from mass reach to reaching the right audience at the right time and in the right environments. And that is contextual advertising for you.

This is the second article from a three-part series of programmatic articles, aimed to educate marketers and advertisers about programmatic advertising, its benefits, factors to consider, and the latest technologies that make programmatic advertising the need of the hour. The first article can be accessed by clicking here.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

programmatic advertising Contextual targeting Saurabh Khattar IAS