Behavioral vs. Contextual advertising: how to create a complementary digital strategy for back-to-school campaigns

June 7, 2023 | 4 minute read
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Are you making your list and checking it twice for the busiest shopping season of the year? No, we’re not talking about winter holidays. In fact, students’ return to college and school outpaced consumer winter holiday spending in 2022, according to the National Retail Federation, crowning back-to-school as the top spending event of the year. The average per-person spending in 2022 for back-to-college and back-to-school was nearly $1,200 and $865, respectively.

This season is equally busy for marketers, too. When consumers open their wallets to spend, commanding their attention can prove tricky in a highly competitive marketplace. Brands that utilize a strategic combination of behavioral and contextual signals can find the right buyers in the suitable environments at the appropriate time to make an impact efficiently at scale. Let’s look at how to build a complementary digital strategy for back-to-school campaigns.


Behavioral vs. Contextual Targeting: What’s the Difference?

Behavioral targeting aims to reach individuals based on observed activities performed online and offline, which can be used as signals to strengthen the relevancy of an ad to its viewer. Behavioral data is identity-based, meaning it involves the collection of purchases made, trips to retailers, certain online activities, and other information to create a profile on a user that offers a glimpse into that individual’s likes and dislikes. This information is aggregated and often modeled to create audiences that can be activated across various channels such as social media, connected television (CTV), and the open web via anonymized identifiers like cookies and device IDs. For example, parents who purchased a high volume of school supplies this time last year may indicate intent to purchase again this year, making them the perfect prospect for a retailer with stocked shelves. 

Yet audience targeting alone cannot serve consumers’ need for ad relevance, and that’s where contextual targeting adds incremental value. Contextual targeting displays digital ads based on the context of the page being consumed. Contextual data is a page-level solution that does not utilize IDs associated with people or past behavioral data. It can be a great way to reach a consumer based on their current mindset. For example, a parent researching the best student credit cards for a child headed off to college may be in the right mindset to open an application, and this could be the perfect place for a major banking institution to reach them with an ad about an introductory offer.  


Creating a Complementary Strategy

Utilizing behavioral and contextual data in tandem strengthens your ability to break through the noise of a critical buying season and effectively reach your prospects. Let’s consider a healthy snacks brand that aims to reach parents prepping brown bag school lunches. 

Audience Targeting: Utilize behavioral data to find consumers who are in-market for your products or services or have demonstrated past actions matching your desired outcomes this year.

Consumers are creatures of habit and tend to exhibit a degree of brand and retailer loyalty. A parent who was a heavy snacks category purchaser during last year’s back-to-school season may be suggestive of an upcoming purchase pattern. Similarly, a consumer who lives in close proximity or has made numerous trips to big box retailers that stock this healthy snack brand’s product suggests the consumer may be a regular shopper, and the brand may want to reach people who shop at stores where their products are sold. Oracle Advertising has purpose-built an extensive set of data assets that achieve an in-depth view into consumer behaviors of over 115 million U.S. households that you can reach through your back-to-school campaigns.  

Contextual Targeting: Identify opportune environments to reach your ideal customer and lean on Contextual Intelligence to ensure your ads are delivered there while avoiding any contexts that may not be suitable for your brand. 

A parent with a child headed off to school for the first-time reading content about healthy packed lunches may be in the right mindset to consider trying out this healthy snack brand’s products this year. Contextual technology by Oracle Advertising quickly enables granularity, transparency, and control over the environments in which your ads appear. Our expanded taxonomy of 700 pre-built segments is ready to activate immediately on most major DSPs, and our bespoke capabilities offer endless possibilities to fulfill your brand objectives. 

Content Affinity Targeting: leverage newer privacy-friendly targeting solutions that place ads in the various types of content a target cohort is likely to engage with. These solutions use insights from an audience but reaches them without the use of identity in ad delivery. 

While some families may do their homework on healthy back-to-school lunches, others may not, making it harder to reach these individuals with precise contextual targeting. This is where content affinity solutions can come in handy to find all the topics that index high with parents of elementary school-aged children ranging from summer camps and family-friendly entertainment, to topics like budgeting, healthy living, and early to mid-career advice topics. 

With careful planning, behavioral and contextual targeting solutions working together can generate positive performance for your brand this back-to-school season. 


Download this back-to-school guide to Oracle Advertising’s best behavioral audiences and contextual segments for this season, or schedule time for a consultation with an Oracle Advertising representative to customize a targeting plan for your brand’s unique needs. 

Holly Robertson

Holly leads a North American sales team at Oracle Advertising dedicated to identifying the best data solutions to reach a brand’s prospects and customers across CPG, Retail, Media & Entertainment, Technology, Financial Services and B2B industries. Holly has built a 15-year career in digital advertising with experience ranging from media and creative agencies and publishers to advertising technology companies and has spent a third of that time at Oracle Advertising.

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