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Published December 6th 2016

A Complete Guide to Contextual Advertising

Contextual advertising will make your ads more effective. You can be prepared when the next level of context and personalization arrive - find out how.

There is a scene in Minority Report where miniature cop of the future Tom Cruise is walking down a mall, stressing out as the plotlines converge around him.

Suddenly, the billboards start calling his name.

“John Anderton! You could use a Guinness right about now”.

“Stressed out? Get away, John Anderton”.

Any advancement of contextual advertising has since been heralded as the coming of the future, with columns declaring “Creepy Minority Report advertising is here!”.

Contextual marketing has benefits to the consumer and the brand. If ads are going to be displayed, making them relevant is better for everyone.

Delivering the right message to the right person at the right time means the person might discover something they are interested in, and the brand stands a better chance of making a sale.

While contextual marketing can deliver now, the level of personalization and relevance will soon rise to the next level. Brands need to begin the process now to ensure they are able to stay up-to-date as the technology improves.

What is contextual advertising?

Contextual advertising (also known as contextual marketing) is a form of targeted advertising, generally appearing on websites and in apps. It often involves personalization of the ad to make it more effective.

Mod’s Scooter

We’re all familiar with this form of advertising.

Search Google for cheap deals on New Balance and the first three results are ads from stores selling New Balance. Continue to browse the net and you will notice New Balance ads following you everywhere.

Log on to Facebook and you don’t even need a recent search to see contextual advertising – your aggregated history of activity provides advertisers with an ocean of data to analyze.

This form of contextual marketing is common, but we are now entering an age where the context can be much deeper than a single recent search.

New elements are being introduced to the mix to create marketing messages that are personalized to a degree never previously possible.

The elements of context

A variety of criteria can be considered for contextual advertising. Different brands will be interested in different data. Weather would be one of the primary pieces of information for an ice cream or clothing brand, while location could make all the difference for a hotel or restaurant.

  • Language
  • Location
  • Weather
  • Time of day
  • Device
  • Preferred channel
  • Past behavior
  • Purchase history

The future is now

While you may think this type of contextual marketing is some form of marketing nirvana still years in the future, the first steps can be taken now.

Even in a more rudimentary form it will help your business and lead towards true context as your data and technology stack improves.

As Lǎozǐ, the ancient Chinese philosopher and future inspirational poster author once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

Help the customer journey with contextual advertising

The modern customer journey

Part of the necessity of this form of marketing is the development of the customer journey. Customer journeys used to be pretty simple.

Now, in the age of the customer, the path to purchase isn’t linear and contains multiple touchpoints.

Brands can be as meticulous as they want in their planning and marketing, but the fact is consumers conduct much of their research outside of the brand’s sphere of influence.

Search, online reviews and articles, print ads, display ads, in-store visits, TV ads, and mobile search can all play a part in the journey.

While traditional marketing campaigns are still vitally important, the other touchpoints in this journey give brands an opportunity to continue to build momentum.

Contextual marketing barriers

The list of potential elements to include may lead to the conclusion that there is a multitude of barriers, but really it comes down to two problems.

Contextual marketing might feel like the future, but you should start now

Actionable data

The first barrier to rolling out specific, targeted ads is a lack of actionable data. While we live in an age of big data, problems exist in parsing out that data to discover the relevant information.

There is also the not insignificant problem of blending different datasets to connect the person in your CRM data to the person on your website, or to their social profiles.


Connecting different data sets is partly a problem with existing technology.

Siloed systems hold siloed data. This means there is an inability to link information and automate interactions.

As we’ve said, these might be barriers to future contextual oneness, but they aren’t reasons to abandon the plan altogether. There are simpler actions that can be taken now that will add immediate value and begin the development of more mature systems.

Making a start with context

The first step is to discover where they are, who they are, and what they like.

Using interviews, sales and CRM data, web data, reviews and feedback, and social data, you can build up a picture to refer back to in any campaign.

We’ve written before on the importance of researching and segmenting your market, and developing accurate buyer personas to assist you in understanding who your audience is and what they respond to, so you can know how to activate them.

With these personas available, you are able to reference them when it comes to your contextual advertising campaigns. For example, if you are going to target a particular profession on Linkedin, your buyer personas for that group can provide information on how best to connect with that group.

Pay Per Click – Ads that target people searching for relevant keywords. Your market research might have revealed particular language associated with a certain market segment, meaning you can tailor your messaging to that segment. Relevant real-time events may provide an opportunity to provide context.

Retargeting – Display ads can re-engage people who have visited your site only to bounce. These ads will be displayed elsewhere, displayed only to people who have expressed an interest in your brand.

Social media – One of simplest current methods, as social networks do all the hard work behind the scenes. A variety of targeting options are available including location, profession, age, gender, interests, or behavior.

Website – You can personalize your website for repeat visits based on an account system (think Amazon tailoring your recommended purchases) or using cookies (think millions of websites everywhere).

Email – Segment your email database to deliver different content to different groups. In B2B that could be by industry, job title, or the stage in the buyer journey.

Beginning the process of introducing contextual advertising will help to deliver a more effective message right now. But it will also begin to put your brand on a journey to the increased level of personalization and context that big data will soon allow. Context and personalization are only going to become increasingly important as technology and data systems allow.


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Crimson Hexagon has merged with Brandwatch. You’re in the right place!

From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.