Contextual Targeting: The Future of Privacy-Safe Advertising

December 3, 2020

Contextual targeting is a privacy-safe and effective way for brands to reach people. With Apple’s recent announcement about removing use of Advertising IDs and Google's promise to remove cookies from Chrome over the next few years, we’re at a tipping point of massive change when it comes to how tech, and in turn advertisers, operate.

It’s time for a new generation of tech to provide advertisers with ways to remain successful without surveilling people via personal data. We’re confident the answer lies in the use of contextual targeting.

In this blog, we explore what contextual targeting is, how brands can use it in messaging, and why the time is now.

What is Contextual Targeting?

Contextual targeting in its essence is providing relevant advertising as it relates to the context or mindset the person is in at that moment. In television, it’s purchasing a commercial spot that will run during a program relevant to your target audience (i.e. running a beer commercial during the NFL Sunday games). In magazines, it could be a men’s clothing brand ad in GQ. And online, it’s a sponsored banner for cookware on a recipe blog. 

The most important component of contextual targeting is relevancy. You are being strategic about where to place your ads based on how relevant the environment is to your brand, instead of utilizing personal information (like age, location, and identified personal interests) to target people with advertisements. With contextual targeting, you do not need to know any personal information about individuals; instead, you are just being present in the places that make the most sense for your brand to be. 

Contextual Targeting in Messaging

In messaging, contextual targeting works the same way as described above - based on relevance and usefulness to a conversation. Brands can provide people with content to help make conversations better at just the right time. So, if two friends are discussing getting coffee in the morning, a Starbucks Sticker might be suggested to them. The purpose is to add value to the conversation without needing to know anything personal about the two individuals chatting (i.e. that they are two females aged 34 who live in Greenwich, CT). All you need to know is that two people are discussing coffee, and that the conversation is super relevant to your brand!

Why Contextual Targeting is Important in Messaging Environments

The messaging space is one that has been historically intimate, whereas social media is a place for people to be extroverted. Because of the intimate nature of messaging, brands have never had the opportunity to advertise there. Think about it: Would you want to be served an intrusive banner ad in the middle of a messaging exchange with your Mom? Probably not. 

Be Present, Not Invasive

The key to success in the messaging space is to lean on contextual targeting in order to be present without overstepping. Contextual targeting allows brands to be there only when they’re needed and only when it makes sense. If it was done any other way in messaging, the advertising would feel insincere, invasive, and downright creepy!

Brands are Already Doing It

Brands are already joining messaging conversations with contextual targeting. And they’re getting creative with it! Some examples:

We partnered with Smirnoff to pull off a tentpole campaign around July 4th weekend. The alcohol brand was able to become part of super relevant conversations about Independence Day celebrations. 

And tentpoles aren’t the only way to reach people in messaging. IKEA joined chat about sleep and prepping for back-to-school, Starbucks is becoming part of coffee and drink conversations, and Orbit helped people clean up their dirty dating DMs. 

There are plenty of ways to get involved in conversations that make sense for your brand to be a part of using the power of context! 

Contextual Targeting vs. Behavioral Targeting

Why contextual targeting and why now? Let’s take a step back and discuss another form of advertising targeting - behavioral targeting. This is a practice that has been used for quite some time now, but isn’t quite right for the messaging space (for reasons mentioned above).

The Rise of Behavioral Targeting 

As mentioned, big moves are being made in order to mitigate the use of personal information for the sake of brand advertising. With the rise of technology use, especially on social media, we as a society became complacent (or were just arguably unaware) about how our personal data was being collected and used. We entered into the social media world fast and furiously, so there were no laws or regulations put into place about the use of personal data.

Because of this wild west-esque situation, companies were able to take advantage of gaining insights into people’s age, location, personal interests, and other sensitive information and used that information to advertise based upon it. This is better known as Behavioral Targeting, because it is based on the behaviors of a user which are tracked by things like browser cookies and tracking apps. 

An Example of Behavioral Targeting

If a local deli wanted to gain more millennial customers in their immediate surrounding area, they could quickly create a list of people who were:

  • Between the ages of 25-34
  • Located within 10 miles of the deli’s location
  • Interested in: Food & Beverage

Those people would then be served an ad for said deli in social media feeds and other places online.

Clearly, this advertisement strategy used personalized information (gleaned from cookies that track the user around the web) instead of contextual information (like keywords). A more invasive approach, behavioral targeting opened up questions around data safety and posed concerns about the use of this personal information.


What’s Next for Behavioral Targeting?

These behavioral advertising practices still exist today, but we’re at a point where this level of surveillance is being challenged, and even the government is getting involved. It’s not clear what will happen next, but contextual targeting is already becoming even more of a hot topic, especially in the advertising world, as a data-safe solution that still allows advertisers to reach people effectively.

The Future of Contextual Targeting

Contextual targeting isn’t a new concept, but experts predict that it will likely have a rebirth due to rising data privacy concerns. The messaging space, however, is an exciting new avenue for contextual targeting. An arena that was previously unattainable to brands due to its intimate nature, messaging is now a place where advertisers can meet people in a meaningful way

Contextual targeting allows brands to become part of messaging conversations in a completely relevant and privacy-safe way, by utilizing keywords and sentiment to provide useful content in the right moment. Relevancy is key, data safety is priority, and context is back in style. 

If you want to learn how your brand can utilize contextual targeting in messaging campaigns, just Holler!

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