Back To The Future: Why Contextual Advertising Is Back In Vogue

Asian woman using smart phone for voting with emoticon hologram effect. Isolated on background.

The advertising industry is busily preparing for a (not-so-distant) privacy-led future.

Google’s decision to deprecate third-party cookies coupled with Apple’s move away from the IDFA means that the idea of ‘tracking’ a user as they navigate the web will no longer work as the market exists today.

These changes aim to promote privacy online and give users a greater sense of transparency and control when it comes to the way in which advertisers use their data.

However, a privacy-first advertising ecosystem can still provide advertisers with opportunities to target relevant customers using different techniques that do not require cookies or other tracking devices.


Contextual advertising has emerged as a way to meet privacy expectations while still delivering results.

Traditionally, contextual advertising has been used on TV and in newspapers, magazines and on websites to match brand messaging to relevant content in an effort to elicit  interest by the audiences consuming that content. An airline might book a half-page ad in the travel section of a Sunday paper, for example.

Today, advancements in technology mean these same principles can be used at scale in a personalised and digital format.

“Being in the right place at the right time makes the right audience more likely to read, remember and react favorably to a message. Audiences are more leaned in on quality content, so focusing on the environment where a brand appears can drive more awareness and lift,” Kargo general manager APAC Robert Leach told B&T.

Data-driven contextual advertising provides new opportunities, allowing insights and automation to deliver a more complex understanding of the various elements that make a good match between an ad and content. Fun, happy content isn’t necessarily the right placement for every brand, nor is just an obvious industry match like travel ads on travel articles. A serious research-based article might lend credibility to an ad for a healthcare brand, for example. And a travel article about road trips might work better for an auto ad than a hotel brand. 

“Marketers typically assume it’s best to focus on positive content, which will then hopefully drive a more favorable opinion of the surrounding ads. This simplistic use of contextual may not be what’s best for the brand. There are a multitude of different contextual factors that determine the best match between an ad and the right content, which is the beauty of using data-driven, automated contextual targeting,” he said.


With the upcoming changes around third-party cookies, marketers are looking at ways to deploy contextual advertising, while respecting user privacy.

Kargo’s Cohort Intelligence uses an AI-powered algorithm to identify the most performant and brand-safe contextual environments for a brand’s audience and utilises natural language processing and predictive analytics to help advertising partners align their message with relevant content.

“We see the shadow that users cast across the content they explore, using their interests, mindsets, emotions and behaviors to predict the contexts in which they’re most likely to act,” said Leach.

“Drawing on our exclusive 1:1 publisher integrations and powered by IBM Watson, our proprietary algorithm examines site pages to identify and validate the content attributes and how they combine to provide the most performant context for reaching your audience.”

“Most current contextual solutions only rely on dispersed individual attributes without analyzing their relationships. They don’t see the forest for the trees. We do. On top of that, we validate what contextual data points are telling us with industry partners like comScore.”

Leach added that while Kargo still has access to cookies, they are currently being used to validate and strengthen these algorithms.


For Kargo, which specialises in mobile advertising solutions, it is important to consider the screen when it comes to contextual advertising, said Leach.

“The screen itself is part of the context considered, not just the content on a page. And so mobile contextual advertising should reflect consumer habits specific to the phone,” he said.

“For instance, social embed usage. Social is often today’s main source for breaking and reporting on the news. Social embeds are on the rise, creating a new advertising opportunity for brands.

Having seen this trend of embeds, Kargo recently acquired Rhombus, a technology that allows publishers to monetise social posts embedded into editorial.

“This is a unique offering in the market and it saw a 483 per cent quarterly revenue increase since the Kargo relaunch of Rhombus as Social Canvas,” Leach said.

In Q4 2020 the available supply of social embeds increased by 250 per cent.

“Providing advertisers the ability to target ads around contextually relevant social embeds with high-profile visibility in a brand-safe context, Social Canvas drives 36 per cent higher viewability, 58 per cent longer dwell time, resulting in five per cent higher CTR,” said Leach.


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