Digital MarketingData-Driven MarketingContextual targeting for intelligent relevance that respects data regulations

Contextual targeting for intelligent relevance that respects data regulations

Xaxis' Daniel Macdonald looks at the benefits of contextual targeting, as ad buyers are decreasing or eliminating their spend in open auctions on ad exchanges.

30-second summary:

  • Faced with restrictive privacy laws and regulations globally, major brand advertisers are turning to new forms of targeting, such as contextual targeting, to find and reach consumers.
  • Many are finding success with large premium publishers who gather first-party data on audiences and have permission to serve them targeted ads.
  • By running through ad exchanges, private marketplaces (PMPs) can use data for targeting while strongly limiting the number of available URLs and advertisers allowed to interact on them.
  • Identity-based targeting is also on the rise. Marketers are working with platforms and publishers that require logins or have device IDs, targeting consumers who opt to receive such ad messages.
  • By operating at the page and keyword levels, contextual targeting technologies can surface new inventory on pages that would have previously been shunned.
  • The technologies can also help avoid uncomfortable positioning in ostensibly safe environments, such as a review of a competitor’s product or show.
  • Perhaps best of all, new data gathering and attribution models help refine and hone all kinds of targeting over time to optimize for placements that generate the most favorable outcomes that marketers need.

Faced with restrictive privacy laws and regulations globally, major brand advertisers are turning to new forms of targeting, such as contextual targeting, to find and reach consumers.

Marketers believe “the looming threat of government regulation” is the top obstacle threatening their data projects this year, according to a report published in March by the IAB and the Winterberry Group.

Europe’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) has been in effect for over a year. A few weeks ago, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) took effect, which similarly restricts the ways that users’ data can be used and shared. Other U.S. states either have or are planning their own restrictive data-privacy laws.

In hopes of avoiding the government watchdogs’ ire, some ad buyers — leery of behavioral targeting that uses audience data gathered from third-party cookies — are decreasing or eliminating their spend in open auctions on advertising exchanges while employing other methods to keep reaping the results they need.

Working with premium publishers

Many are finding success with large premium publishers who gather first-party data on audiences and have permission to serve them targeted ads. (Users give that permission by clicking “OK” on the privacy notice that appears when they visit a website.)

“Data is a huge focus and area of growth for us over the next year,” Michele DeVine, Sr. Director Programmatic Partnerships at BuzzFeed, said on a recent publishers’ panel. “Users … are giving us a ton of rich first-party data as they take quizzes and [do] meal prep on [BuzzFeed food site] Tasty,” she said.

The New York Times, one of the most premium of U.S. publishers, cut off ad exchanges in Europe to stay out of trouble and was nonetheless able to continue increasing its ad revenue, according to Digiday.

“The fact that we are no longer offering behavioral targeting options in Europe does not seem to be in the way of what advertisers want to do with us,” Jean-Christophe Demarta, SVP for Global Advertising at The New York Times International, told Digiday. “We have not been impacted from a revenue standpoint, and, on the contrary, our digital-advertising business continues to grow nicely.”

A rise in PMPs and identity targeting

Marketers are also shifting to the more controlled environments of private marketplaces (PMPs), eMarketer said. By running through ad exchanges, PMPs can use data for targeting while strongly limiting the number of available URLs and advertisers allowed to interact on them.

In conjunction with this technique, the marketers are using Consent Management Platforms to help store and manage data on the consumers who have agreed to receive targeted ads.

Identity-based targeting is also on the rise. Marketers are working with platforms and publishers that require logins or have device IDs, targeting consumers who opt to receive such ad messages.

Many of the platforms offer identity-targeting solutions to help marketers hone in on their most likely prospects, including Facebook (which calls its offer Custom Audiences), Twitter (Tailored Audiences), and Google (Customer Match).

Contextual targeting gets a refresh

Media buyers are using new forms of contextual targeting that go well beyond the tactics of years ago when they treated the web similarly to newspapers and magazines, placing ads adjacent to content in editorial sections about topics relevant to the ad messages.

Today, advertisers use sophisticated linguistic-analysis technologies to find relevant content at not only the domain, section and sub-domain levels, but also by page and even keyword. The technologies automatically scan and categorize pages to unearth both ones that are hospitable to their messages and ones they should avoid.

By operating at the page and keyword levels, contextual targeting technologies can surface new inventory on pages that would have previously been shunned.

For example, a contextual solution might find a travel-oriented article in an international news section otherwise rife with content on war and strife, or a health or tech story under a business-section URL.

The technologies can also help avoid uncomfortable positioning in ostensibly safe environments, such as a review of a competitor’s product or show.

They can be updated instantly to help spurn previously accommodating pages that have since turned sour, such as when a popular celebrity transgresses. And, they can scan and block pages that a brand might consider unsafe, such as ones with curse words or about drug and alcohol consumption.

Contextual solutions are becoming available for video, as well, and are expected to be more widely used in coming months and years.

Data is still the thing

With contextual targeting, marketers often see results that are similar to behavioral. Media buyers have even seen results improve by using contextual targeting, Digiday said.

“As an industry we went down the path of targeting a specific audience too far, to the detriment of the environment in which the ad is delivered,” said Robin O’Neill, managing director of digital trading at GroupM. “I would argue we have moved too far away from contextual — so I welcome people talking about this resurgence.”

Perhaps best of all, new data gathering and attribution models help refine and hone all kinds of targeting over time to optimize for placements that generate the most favorable outcomes that marketers need. That makes every type of advertising work better.

Daniel Macdonald is responsible for Investments & Partnerships for Xaxis US, overseeing its entire network of premium publishers, data and measurement partners. He and his team focus on building and maintaining the media framework that empowers Xaxis to deliver scalable outcomes for brands while ensuring Xaxis’ rigorous brand safety standards are met. Over a 12 year career at Xaxis and 24/7 Real Media, Danny has held positions inside client services and supply management.

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