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Displaying the Value of Contextual Ads

  |  February 17, 2011   |  Comments

Display ads can now be adapted to a site page's content in real time. How will consumers respond?

Internet users have long displayed mixed feelings about contextually-targeted ads. There is an obvious consumer advantage to being served ads that are relevant to the content on the site page. At the same time, ads that too closely mirror the page content have been known, at times, to give viewers the heebie-jeebies.

Recent studies suggest the former attitude now outweighs the latter: good news for media buyers and publishers alike. Last year's "The Seattle Times" study found that 69 percent of respondents viewed advertising as valuable when the ads were relevant to the page content, compared with 36 percent that considered online advertising valuable in general. Most interesting, though, was that the nature of the site content played a part. Contextual advertising wasn't readily accepted when running next to hard news content, believed by some of those surveyed to reduce the credibility of the news story. Softer content like sports and entertainment, though - that was deemed fair game. And contextual ads that invited site users to take an action like book a trip or make a purchase had even more impact.

Couple interactive, action-oriented display ads with soft news content and it seems one might have a recipe for success. At least one ad technology provider is counting on it. This month, contextual and in-text advertising company Vibrant Media launched its VIA Dynamic Display product, an extension of the existing VXPlatform. "In a sea of irrelevant messages, Internet users have turned away from banner ads, and simply making ads bigger is not the answer," says Anna Kassoway, SVP, global marketing and creative. "Now a whole new level of relevance is possible where the ad can understand the page and change to match it."

The new product adapts display ads to the content of the site page in real time to create a highly relevant relationship between the story and the ad message. Ads are delivered through Vibrant's network of 6,000 publishers, which include automotive, technology, entertainment, and lifestyle sites along with MSNBC.com and others.

In a demo of the product, an entertainment article citing actress Mila Kunis was accompanied by a Bing search ad in which a search field was pre-populated with the keywords "Mila Kunis." A similar Bing banner example on the "Hollywood Insider," which is a site section on the "Entertainment Weekly" website, appeared alongside an article about box office ticket sales that highlighted the popularity of last year's "Toy Story 3."


Again, the search field was pre-populated with the story's most prominent subject, but the banner also provided the site user with additional relevant search options: in this case terms like "Toy Story Website," "Toy Story 3 Songs," and even "Cars 2 Movie" – the next big release from Disney/Pixar. In this way the display ad didn't just encourage immediate interaction, but motivated additional searches that were likely to be just as relevant to the consumer. One could argue that it included a modicum of psychographic targeting by inferring that if the user was interested in one kid-friendly Disney/Pixar sequel, he might be interested in another.

Vibrant Media says that its VIA Dynamic Display ads can produce click-through rates up to five times higher than a standard banner ad.

Research studies aside, contextual advertising should come down to one thing for media planners and buyers: common sense. We've all seen campaigns go wrong and ad verification and monitoring are only part of the solution. If a contextually-targeted display ad feels misleading, or if the content with which it will be appearing is apt to be volatile and inflammatory, you may want to reconsider your strategy. The use of comScore-rated site lists and inclusive keyword lists can help, but if the opportunity exists to achieve your objectives by marrying your contextual banner ads with softer news content, consider leaving the news stories behind.

With each new revelation about consumers and contextual targeting and each new product brought to market, buyers are well-equipped to display their digital savvy.


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Tessa Wegert

Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.

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