The standard advertising model has been built on delivering eyeballs–the more people a content provider can deliver, the more they can charge. This model has endured for years because it worked reasonably well–and because there weren’t better alternatives.
New advertising models, however, are proliferating–and many are focused on context based advertising. The best known context machine is, of course, Google, which uses consumers search “intention” to match ads to consumers interest. Increasingly, however, new “contextual” or “semantic” advertising models are sprouting up in non-digital channels as well.
Of course, context based advertising has its fair share of critics, such as the recent MediaPost article by Sacha Carton on “Why Contextual Advertising Fails.” But in fairness, much of the criticism is about poor execution, not the conceptual appeal of the approach. And besides, who can really argue with Google’s runaway success ?
How Program Content Affects Advertising Performance
The idea of content influencing advertising effectiveness has been around for years. One of the early academic articles on the topic was by C. Whan Park and Gordon W. McClung, titled “The Effect of TV Program Involvement on Involvement with Commercials.” Park and McClung believed that there are two program content factors which can impact ad performance:
“The effect of a TV program on an advertisement’s effectiveness can be understood with the consideration of: 1) the level of audience involvement with the program; and 2) the congruence between program contents and commercial contents…”
Their study focused on the former and differentiated between two types of TV program involvement: cognitive and affective. Cognitive involvement describes the viewers focus on learning and gathering new information, while affective involvement describes the emotional attachment of the viewer to characters and situations in the program.
Park and McClung’s experiments showed that for affective programming, there was a curvilinear relationship between TV program involvement and commercial involvement–e.g. involvement increased from low to medium and then declined at high levels of program engagement. Interestingly, this effect was substantial for “affective” shows and negligible for “cognitive” programs. So, it seems clear that advertising effectiveness is influenced by viewer engagement in the program. But what about the congruence between the ad and the content that surrounds it?
New Initiatives in Contextual Advertising
Last year, Turner Broadcasting launched “TV in Context” with 100 of their movies and scripted TV shows. TV in Context does exactly what it says–it connects ads to relevant content. So, for example, the system would match a motorcycle ad to a movie featuring motorcyclists, an ad for wedding services might follow a movie with a wedding theme, etc. Turner claims the program has demonstrated increased ad recall and purchase intent for ads matched to programs in this way.
Beyond TV, context based ads are showing up in other mediums as well. One of the more interesting recent entries is in radio. In January this year, Clear Channel launched context based advertising:
“Clear Channel Radio today announced the ability to automatically and reliably insert any length of audio spot immediately after specific programming or commercial spots based entirely on content.”
Let’s take a closer look at the Clear Channel offering to better understand how contextual advertising is moving beyond the web.
Clear Channel Radio — How Does It Work ?
Clear Channel uses technology to pair ads with contextually relevant content. Examples included:
- Music Context – Clear Channel’s service ran a Walmart commercial for the ACDC “Black Ice” CD. But, instead of using only demographic targeting, Clear Channel ran the ad immediately after the same ACDC song on FM stations across 91 markets. So, in this case, Clear Channel used musical context as the cue to pair contextually relevant ads.
- Advertising Context — GEICO’s “Save 15% or more on auto insurance” ads are ubiquitous. Clear Channel took the ad theme a step further by placing GEICO’s :15 radio spots immediately after ads from auto, motorcycle and other vehicle makers. So, for example, a Ford ad would be followed by a GEICO ad.
- Numerical Context – Clear Channel also placed GEICO’s “Save 15% or more” radio spots at strategically placed drive times–e.g. 7:15, 8:15, 9:15 am, etc. The creative even reminded listeners that “because it’s 15 minutes after the hour, there’s no better way to spend the next 15 minutes saving 15% with GEICO.”
In all cases, ads were dynamically placed based on different types of contextually relevant ads or content. Walmart and GEICO claim substantial business gains based on the Clear Channel context driven ad placements.
Context Based Advertising — Where’s It Going ?
What’s interesting about the above examples is the sheer diversity of contextual approaches to drive improved advertising results. Marketers can use program themes, music, timing and more to place contextually relevant ads. The options are endless for cueing up relevant ads.
The increasing digitization of marketing and technology advancements, combined with new and innovative measurement techniques, will continue to drive innovation in this space. Brands should experiment and measure what really works and what doesn’t. That said, brands that “get it” first will have an opportunity for using arbitrage to gain advantage versus competition…which is probably the best reason to make sure that your brand becomes contextually relevant.