This year at Advertising Week New York, IAS had the pleasure of hosting “Marketing by Mindset: Unlocking Contextual Targeting,” a discussion on the power of contextual advertising in a cookieless world, and the science behind consumer perception of match ads. Sarah Martinez, Senior VP of Sales at IAS, led a panel with guests Vinny Rinaldi, Head of Investment and Activations at GroupM, and Ron Amran, Senior Director of Global Media at Mars.
The conversation began with a brief look back at the history of contextual advertising. Contextual can be a powerful and effective means of going back to the traditional way media was purchased, and applying it to a digital environment. While the cookie pushed us forward to incredibly advanced technology and will be hard to let go of, Martinez is confident that contextual advertising makes the experience of consuming media much better.
“You want the advertising to resonate, and if there isn’t relevance, you lose resonance,” she said.
Rinaldi echoed her sentiment, remarking that content is king, and taking a quality-first approach to content means thinking about the effectiveness of impressions, not just quantity.
Moving beyond brand safety
Even though some content may be considered brand-safe, it doesn’t mean it’s relevant to the audience at hand. A great example of this was given by Rinaldi, who invited the audience to consider a four-year-old watching children’s content on YouTube and still seeing ads geared towards adults. While safe, the anecdote showed how our current technology is failing, and how contextual solutions can fill the gaps to make stronger connections.
While Amran also reflected on some of the areas for improvement with contextual solutions — namely, the ability to read audio and video media effectively — he was optimistic that we can “unlock the power” of contextual with a shift in perspective. “Rather than thinking about something being safe or unsafe, we have to think about effectiveness and ineffectiveness, offensive and defensive strategies,” Amran said. “Risk assessment needs to be on a gradient. We know that it’s very easy to put a measure on high and low-quality content; we need to put this same measure on contextual content, and put a price next to both quality and relevance.”
Connecting business outcomes with media outcomes
By moving past heavy blocklists and incorporating more intelligent triggers into campaign strategy, advertisers can create better business outcomes. A purely brand safety or corporate affairs angle may lead you to block something like sports, an incredibly broad category.
Taking an approach focused on effectiveness allows advertisers to “crack open the words” to understand what they mean, then link ROI and growth to each placement.
The Context Effect research from IAS
Our research study, The Context Effect, found that contextually relevant ads improve consumer perception — and that 73% of consumers find them more appealing. Advertising is not one-size-fits-all; Rinaldi advocates for knowing your consumer first and building the correct audience on a campaign-by-campaign basis.
For Amran, a successful and relevant campaign has two aspects: personalization through targeting and optimization. By reading signals from our consumers and reviewing campaigns thoroughly, we can continuously improve as advertisers.
The winning combination for campaigns
In recent years, Mars has focused on creating a rigorous test-and-learn program for its campaigns, Amran said. Rather than creating a specific hypothesis for a problem, the Mars team creates test groups for each variable, like country, market, brand, and more. The key to success, he said, is finding an agency partner that takes a holistic view of the entire process, isolating for errors, and building a learning agenda that is long-term and globally tested. “It’s not productive to leave too many things to chance,” he says.
GroupM has adopted a similar ideology to support their clients, “flipping the script [by] bringing the learning agenda to the table before the process, and working backward from the goals of the clients.” Through a combination of quarterly reviews, iterations, and optimization, GroupM helps their clients achieve the greatest incremental reach and exceed their KPIs.
What makes a successful partner for contextual advertising?
Both Rinaldi and Amran emphasized that taking an “effectiveness over efficiency” approach makes contextual partners stand out. “Instead of talking about price, why don’t we talk about value and output for each solution? We want to really understand the methodology to understand a partner’s ability to deliver,” Amran said.
Rinaldi echoed his sentiment: “There’s a procurement pressure and a savings driver built into these giant media buys; but if you just buy cheap, you sabotage yourself and your growth. Cost and quality need to be considered equally,” when evaluating an agency.
The power of personalization
The Context Effect showed that there can be a 25% increase in consumer memorability for matched ads, compared to unmatched. To adapt to this consumer mindset, advertisers are adjusting strategies to prioritize personalized experiences.
While a 1:1 match is unrealistic, Mars creates versions and storylines for each consumer group so they can maintain scale while still making their consumers feel seen. A perfect use case is the creative for a product like S’Mores. While consumers in the suburbs may want to see a family around a firepit, someone in the city might feel that the image of someone making S’Mores in the oven of their apartment is more relatable.
While direct-to-consumer ad teams have been working this way since day one, Rinaldi says it’s a welcome shift for more traditional brands.
Collaborating for the post-cookie future
For our panel guests, the answer is both simple and incredibly complicated: the post-cookie landscape will require breaking down wells, not bifurcating our marketplace further with a closed-off industry. Rinaldi felt that brands and agencies can have more control in a transparent ecosystem and that taking a universal identity lens might be one way of achieving this.
As a marketer, Amran acknowledged the responsibility to support certain behaviors and to try to fund vendors that help support the ecosystem we want. His goal, he said, is to continue to partner with vendors who are trying to create transparency and collaboration that will bring everyone together. “We need a code that we believe in about how we want our business to work, and we need to define how we measure success in our media spend.”
Reaching consumers at the right time and with the right technology takes sophisticated tech and great content, but ultimately, partnership and collaboration will help the entire industry win big with contextual solutions.
Click here for a recap of our other Advertising Week New York session, “The Shift to CTV: Your Audience is Waiting.”