Your first brush with contextual advertising may have come around 2000, when the concept was a novelty and Gator, WhenU, ContentSprinks, and Google's Content-Targeted Advertising ruled the roost. Its novelty may have waned some as its popularity has grown, but the idea of delivering relevant display ads by referencing site content remains an important one.
These days, however, instead of leveraging page context by optimizing site copy alone, companies are loading campaigns with multiple messages and deploying to each user for maximum relevance. The pendulum swung from exclusively targeting ads based on site context to relying on user information bought from data aggregators - audience targeting based on data alone. We're now somewhere in the middle of the two. And the results are downright dynamic.
Dynamic advertising can mean different things to different people. It's the term widely applied to the process of customizing ad creative for site users based on factors like page context, behavior, demographic information, and geography - the approach that's taken by companies like Google-owned Teracent, Tumri, Yahoo-owned Dapper, and MediaMath's Adroit Interactive. In this kind of dynamic creative optimization, companies apply their advertising clients' product information and imagery to multiple banner formats and sizes, selecting the right combination of information and delivering it to the right type of user.
Ask a publisher, particularly one in the retail or classified space, to define dynamic advertising, and you might get a different description entirely. Dynamic ads can just as easily represent banners that pull in advertiser information in real time based on what's most relevant to each user. In this case, brands work with creative optimization companies like classified and local ad player AdPerfect and video advertising company Eyeview Digital to "personalize" banner ads.
This alternative is popular among advertisers with multiple products specific to such factors as location. A travel booking company, for example, might work with one of these platforms and use IP addresses to determine the local weather for consumers. It could adapt its display ads accordingly (e.g., feeding in images of clouds for a rainy day), and deliver a real-time message that's appropriate (such as current ticket prices for a sunny weather destination). Some ask for a user's Zip code in the ad unit itself before committing to a customized creative, thus sourcing even more accurate user information from which to work.
The line between these two dynamic ad classifications is fuzzy at best. For a digital marketer, it can be difficult to know how to begin planning such a campaign. One way is to familiarize yourself with the companies within the dynamic advertising space as a whole, and get to know what each has to offer and how it differs from its competitors. These days, many ad technology companies have major affiliations and the credibility to put your mind at ease, but there's still the niggling matter of which is best for your specific product and needs.
For starters, get an overview of the dynamic advertising environment by taking a look at LUMA Partners' Display Advertising Technology Landscape. Founder Terence Kawaja has created maps (aka "LUMAscapes") for virtually every aspect of digital marketing from search to social media to mobile, but it's the display version that will give you the insight you need into how your potential media partners are categorized, and where they fit within the infrastructure of your next campaign.
Another prudent practice is to stay abreast of industry developments and jump on opportunities to learn more about new techniques. Dynamic advertising isn't exclusive to companies that specialize in making it work; in fact, many others can offer you some form of real-time media. This month, digital advertising solutions company MediaMind (formerly rich media specialist Eyeblaster) announced a partnership with dynamic video technology provider Impossible Software that allows it to offer its advertising clients customized video ads in real time. In a German ad for IKEA, for example, the program generated multiple region-specific pre-roll video ads promoting different products based on each user's location (see two of them here). Unless you already work with MediaMind or make a point of keeping yourself informed, however, you might not catch wind of this development and the company's ability to meet your dynamic video ad needs.
What challenges planners in today's digital media market isn't a lack of opportunity but a surplus of it, and dynamic advertising is no exception. Contextual advertising may still exist in a form similar to what we used to know, but it has also grown and evolved, and with positive results. Get to know it in all its varied forms. You'll surely be glad you did.
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Tessa Wegert is an interactive media strategist with Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy and services agencies, serving such brands as Bioré, Bratz, Food Network, illy, Hunter Douglas, Jergens, and Olympic Paints and Stains. An industry veteran, Tessa has worked in online media buying and planning, marketing, and online copywriting since 1999. She is an active freelance writer specializing in interactive marketing who has contributed to U.S. and Canadian publications, including "USA Weekend Magazine," "Marketing Magazine," "The Globe and Mail," and "The Montreal Gazette." She is frequently quoted as an industry expert and speaks regularly at industry conferences and events.
March 19, 2014