Why Advertisers Should Get Excited About Digital Advertising’s Contextual Future

By Jenn Chen, Chief Revenue Officer, Connatix

By now, most of us have begun reckoning with the coming reality.

Cookies are indeed going away, identifying customers is undoubtedly getting harder, and companies like Google and Apple are not coming to save us.

Outside of the walled gardens, advertisers are questioning if this means an end to one-to-one marketing. And the replacements that many have espoused – identity verification tools, interest-based advertising, or contextual alignment – do not feel inspiring. It might even feel like we are going backward as an industry and giving up on data-driven precision.

In a world where every dollar seems to go to the data-rich duopoly, you do not want to feel like you are relying on technology along the lines of AdSense, which feels like it has not evolved in 20 years.

I’m here to tell you that advertising is not just about a rebound – it is set to enter an advertising technology renaissance, backed by a new breed of highly sophisticated artificial intelligence technologies that should result in a digital ad-targeting world that far exceeds much of what we have seen historically.

At the heart of this innovation is context.

Contextual data is not just getting a second look. It will be a whole new wave of automation and machine learning technologies that will help the industry finally move beyond the era of retargeting that has alarmed consumers and regulators alike. I predict this new era of marketing will result in more revenue for publishers. Advertisers will be able to lean into new forms of audience targeting –  without compromising performance or violating any data contracts they may have with consumers.

Historically, contextual buying has looked something like this: A brand would cut deals with individual publishers to target interest categories that these publishers have set up on their own.

For publishers, this has meant many hours of manual work to tag articles or videos of interest with appropriate keywords; for buyers, this has meant working with individual publishers, all of whom have varying taxonomies and audience demographics. The process has been ripe with inefficiencies.

Today, companies are building systems that can automatically index publishers’ content – text, audio, video, etc., at scale, with more speed and accuracy. There is a whole new wave of automation technology and natural language processing that the brightest minds at places like Stanford, Microsoft, Google, and other tech companies are developing.

Computer vision technology can now identify the people and brands in a video or image, and natural language processing can automatically extrapolate key political figures discussed in a podcast. There is even research to understand the overall sentiment of videos and articles. These advancements will bring new forms of targeting, far more scientific than we have seen, unlocking the power of context at scale.

Buyers can target audiences using an entirely new wave of contextually derived data through existing programmatic tools. The applications will bring a new era of creative marketing and targeting tactics. For example, an athletic brand might target content featuring one of their celebrity brand representatives. Alternatively, this new data can create commerce opportunities by making archival content ‘shoppable,’ since each video is scannable to uncover every single product that appears.

And this is just scratching the surface. There are so many contextual signals and patterns that humans cannot pick up on that become valuable insight for advertising. To be sure, we may be a ways away from predicting human behavior through context, but the technology advancements are moving fast. We are approaching a place where machines will know much more about what the content is about, every nuance, plus how a person’s mindset might impact their ad receptivity in a given moment. Marry that with human discretion and review, and you have a much more powerful combination of new context.

In the long run, I predict we will look back on this end of cookie targeting as a liberating moment for our industry, and one that unlocked the next generation of innovation in digital advertising.