Contextual Intelligence: Everything you need to know and why it matters

March 2, 2022 | 5 minute read
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If you’ve heard the term contextual intelligence lately, you may be wondering how it applies to your ad targeting strategy and why you should care. Contextual intelligence has been a topic in advertising for many years and is closely associated with brand safety and brand suitability. However, it’s now seeing a resurgence.

As competition in digital advertising continues to grow, advertisers are working to build more integrated targeting strategies that leverage contextual intelligence to place ads next to content that’s relevant and interesting to their audiences.

What is contextual intelligence?

Contextual intelligence is the information you gain from analyzing content and how people interact with it. Knowing how consumers engage with content reveals deep insights into user behavior that can be leveraged to deliver more relevant advertising, resulting in a better experience and more effective campaigns.

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about contextual intelligence, including how contextual intelligence solutions work, common misconceptions, and how advertisers use contextual targeting tools to improve ad campaigns.

How context impacts your advertising strategy

In the advertising world, context refers to the environment in which an ad appears. Whether it’s a subway cart, billboard, TV commercial, or online content, serving an ad within the proper context is one of the ways marketers ensure they’re reaching the right audiences.

Context helps digital marketers navigate an increasingly crowded and noisy online ecosystem. Because content evolves and consumer behavior shifts at a rapid rate, marketers are constantly chasing trends to find optimal ad placement opportunities. Contextual intelligence allows marketers to choose the types of content they want their advertising to appear alongside while also enabling them to safeguard their advertising efforts by avoiding unsuitable or potentially damaging content.

How does contextual advertising work?

In advertising, contextual targeting solutions utilize contextual intelligence to serve ads based on the content displayed—it doesn’t focus on who views the content, but rather on what content is viewed. By understanding the content on the page and the environment or site it appears on, marketers can deliver a message that’s relevant, and more likely to drive an action.

The important differentiator between contextual targeting and other ad targeting solutions is that contextual tools use page-level data instead of cookie-based audience data. Cookies track user behavior, giving advertisers access to first-party and third-party audience data. Contextual data focuses solely on page-level information, analyzing website content versus user behavior.

Context in action: a contextual advertising example

Consider a major airline that’s launching a summer campaign aimed at consumers planning vacations. The campaign wants to focus on content about holiday destinations, swimsuit styles, watersports, and summer fitness trends and diets. People interested in this type of content are potentially researching their next vacation and are more likely to be interested in an ad from the airline.

To leverage contextual targeting solutions within the campaign, the airline works with its advertising partner—either an agency or technology/data partner—to develop a list of terms that are likely to appear in articles about vacation-related  topics, including “best beaches,” “top resort destinations,” and “summer fashion styles.”

The airline also creates a list of terms it would like to avoid, such as “tropical storm,” “hurricane,” and “climate change.”

These two lists form the blueprint for the airline’s contextual advertising campaign. The first list helps reach a relevant audience by placing ads within content that aligns with the airline’s targeting strategy, while the second list ensures that it will avoid any unsafe content that may harm its brand reputation.

Is contextual intelligence simply a keyword targeting tactic?

Contextual intelligence goes far beyond keyword targeting practices. The relationship between the terms and the content plays an important role during the content categorization process. Effective contextual intelligence solutions look at more than just a word or term, instead analyzing different sections of a page to interpret subject matter and sentiment.

Returning to the hypothetical example with the airline, consider the word explosion appearing in an article. Naturally, the airline has an aversion to anything related to explosives or explosions. As such, the airline would actively block any inventory that appeared next to content containing the word explosion to ensure brand safety.

But explosion takes on a different meaning depending on context. Consider its use in an article about a tropical destination that’s experiencing an explosion of tourism. Here, the implication of the word is vastly different, and the article would still be considered a safe and relevant ad placement opportunity for the airline.

Still, blocking or including inventory based on terms alone isn’t enough. Contextual intelligence solves this challenge by helping advertisers understand the relationship between terms within content. Without a contextual understanding of the terms and subject matter, marketers may mistakenly block inventory that is brand safe in context, missing prime opportunities to reach key audiences.

How do you use contextual intelligence in campaigns?

These three contextual intelligence applications are the most common among today’s digital marketers.

1. Ensuring brand safety

The most common and well-known use of context by advertisers is to keep their brands safe by avoiding negative associations. In today’s volatile online world, where trends emerge and die off in an instant, brands have become acutely aware of the environment in which their ads and messages appear—and for good reason. According to a Statista survey of US consumers, nearly 80% agreed that brands should be concerned about their ads appearing next to negative content—which contextual intelligence can help avoid

As the nature of programmatic advertising removes direct control over media buys, contextual intelligence helps preserve brand safety by helping advertisers avoid harmful environments that damage their brand equity.

2. Delivering relevant ad experiences

Another application of contextual intelligence involves anticipating an audience’s mindset by actively seeking the content they engage with.

Marketers can never truly know what a consumer is thinking at any given moment. But by understanding what’s happening on the page, advertisers gain a glimpse into a consumer’s intentions and interests.

Contextual intelligence allows marketers to deliver advertising that’s aligned with the content on the page, and potentially with the consumer’s mindset. This results in a more relevant user experience which can help improve campaign performance.

3. Increasing reach and scale

Because context is commonly associated with brand safety, many advertisers see it as something that limits the scale of their campaigns, fearing it could block valuable inventory from the media buy.

But the opposite is actually true. Sophisticated contextual solutions enable advertisers to find relevant content that benefits campaigns, increasing their scale and audience size.

Context allows marketers to take advantage of trending content as it happens. When content begins to spike in popularity, marketers can use contextual intelligence tools to ensure their advertising appears on the most popular pages with the most relevant content. This translates to ads that continually reach new and relevant audiences, leading to more scale and improved reach.

Additionally, by identifying trending contexts and content, brands can find where their audience is most engaged and what content holds their attention, offering up new inventory that can boost ad performance rates.

Read our contextual intelligence report

Learn how contextual intelligence techniques will inform data-driven advertising and marketing in the years to come.

Oracle Content Marketing Team

Oracle's Advertising and CX Content Marketing team aligns content strategy, creation, and amplification across global Advertising and CX marketing and collaborators.

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