Contextual Ads Are The Future Of Digital Advertising

Advertising, at least for the foreseeable future, will be the simplest way to subsidize content online for consumers. If there’s any debate about that, ask the brilliant minds working at Facebook and Twitter about their monetization strategies, they’re all advertising driven. Contrary to much of the online outcry of the last eighteen months, online advertising isn’t going away, it’s getting contextualized.

The best example of this is Snapchat. The massive popularity of its Discover channel and sponsored lenses illustrates the power of reaching out to customers in more native formats. Advertisements must be in-context. Ads should always be baked into user experiences, and ads should never, ever stand in stark contrast to a user’s expectation. Snapchat can demand $700,000 for a sponsored lens because users love them. They’re not obnoxious pre-rolls or ignored banner ads, they’re part of the experience that made Snapchat so popular in the first place.

Ads are no longer made or broken based on the sophistication of their targets – or retargeting. Companies need to work with smart developers to build custom ads for publications and platforms that fit into the experience. The bottom line is they have to create something unique, that’s what users are going to engage with no matter where the ad presents itself.

The next time you’re planning an ad campaign, think about Taco Bell’s Snapchat campaign and its performance. The fast food brand was able to generate 224 million views in a single day. To put it another way, the ad generated 12.5 years worth of play.

The biggest advantage of contextualized ads is that they take a reader-first approach. At The New York Times, 90 percent of digital revenue comes from just 12 percent of readers because the publication builds contextual experiences for their digital subscribers. While this subscription model isn’t going to work for everyone, the general ethos applies to publishers and brands alike: let your customers direct your design decisions, not advertisers. Figure out what they want first, then determine how to incorporate advertising strategies into those features in a nonconfrontational way. Users won’t mind, and might just think better of your brand because of it.

Podcasts are also an interesting case study in contextual ads. Listeners are loyal, and they continuously sit through sponsorship advertisements episode after episode. There’s a reason it happens, though: podcast creators are very involved in the advertising process, and they handpick sponsors that will appeal to their audiences and inject their personality into the promotional segments of each show. Advertisements are shared in context, they provide utility, and they meet the audience’s expectations.

Marketers, brands, and publishers should be embracing the podcast approach, which is very similar to both the Snapchat and New York Times ethos. Relevancy and context are the biggest drivers of consumer satisfaction when it comes to advertising. Neither of those things is delivered through automated auction systems.

Providing an optimized experience to content consumers can only be done in one way: selling directly to advertisers. Algorithms and bots will always underperform direct sales. It may change someday, but today it’s the case 100 times out of 100. To publishers, I recommend embedding yourself firmly between consumer and advertiser, do not try to remove yourself from the process. Be the filter your audience needs to stay loyal.