Audience and Context. And not or.

Been quiet on the blog front recently.  Too much to do and so much of what I would have blogged about a year ago I put out on Twitter and go on with my day.  Blog posts are increasingly where I think through things.  Given the pace of change (dare we call it progress?) there is a lot to think through.  One such topic, the move from contextual advertising to audience targeting.

At the recent IAB Leadership Conference, Tolman Geoffs suggested (see slide 14) that there was a fundamental shift from context to audience buying online.  And, given the amount of data available, the kinds of audience targeting available is simply amazing.   I recently was looking at camera lenses on two sites.  For about four days following that online shopping excursion, I was hit by 20 – 30 different sessions where the exact products I was researching were featured in ads on sites that had nothing to do with photography.  At FM we work with a variety of partners that help us target specific demographic segments through a variety of technologies.  We receive an RFP looking to target women 18 -24 years old, we can deliver that target with virtually no waste.

The implications of a move in this direction could be significant.  Huge segments of the publishing would shift.  Perhaps the most exposed market would be B2B publishers.  B2B content is very expensive and the number of people interested in targeted B2B content is relatively small.  But every B2B target is also a general consumer.  If context no longer matters, it is only a matter of time before advertisers could target CFOs on news, gaming, and music sites effectively.  The expensive content that fueled at B2B publishers business wouldn’t be profitable in a world that values audience over context.  (I’m not suggesting this is the case simply that this is a logical extension of the audience targeting trend.)

But is audience truly replacing context as the primary driver for web advertising?

Context does matter.  Not only to the B2B advertiser but to the advertiser that cares about establishing and reinforcing a brand.  It is not enough to simply reach a target, an advertiser needs to connect with their target.  For down funnel activity where re-targeting is the name of the game, audience targeting might be enough (it is probably cheaper for B&H Photo to reach me on a news site than on a photography site.)  For people working to create demand rather than fulfill, context is still extremely important.

Some of the audience targeting available today could seriously threaten search advertising or banner ads using context to target a customer.  But there is something really powerful about a very deliberate and high impact advertising execution that is clearly place on a specific site.  A brand’s intentional targeting of a specific audience congregating around a specific content experience differentiates a brand.

What is really happening?  The technology dominated online ad industry is evolving to build technology that delivers marketers an improved version of what they have bought for decades.  Creating traffic around context is one thing.  Strong SEO can deliver traffic to context. Generating large collections of highly valued demographics is quite another.  Doing both is where the real premium lies.

It is an and discussion, not an or.

The bar is raised again.

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