Is Contextual Advertising Publishing’s Golden Ticket?

Publishers and brands continue to face a critical challenge: finding an effective way for advertisements to capture users’ attention – without disrupting their experience.

Bill Allman, Chief Digital Officer at Smithsonian Enterprises addressed this concern during a panel hosted by MediaPost. “The biggest scarcity right now is attention, capturing people’s attention,” he said. “Getting them to pay attention for more than a nanosecond is hard for everybody.”1

What’s more, a study conducted by Harris Interactive found that a staggering 82 percent of respondents ignore digital ads altogether.2

These results aren’t exactly encouraging, but getting users to pay attention to advertisements is not impossible; this is where contextual advertising comes in.

Enhancing the User Experience
Contextual advertising is a method of serving advertisements based on the content or overall theme of a web page.3

For example, if a user is reading a sports article, they would be served an advertisement pertaining to sports – whether that be sporting equipment, apparel or services.

The expectation is that serving ads relevant to a user’s interest will boost both click through rates and engagement rates.4

According to research conducted by IPG Media Lab, in partnership with video identification technology company ZEFR, 73 percent of respondents said an ad shown at the contextual level complemented the web browsing experience.5

Additionally, users’ purchase intent increased by 63 percent when shown an ad in a contextually relevant setting.6

Furthermore, respondents were 83 percent more likely to recommend a product in a contextual advertisement than those not targeted at the contextual level.7

“The findings prove that contextually relevant advertising better engages consumers and increases their brand perceptions and purchase and recommendation intent, making it a better option for advertisers than other forms of targeting,”8 said Kara Manatt, VP of consumer research strategy at IPG Media Lab.

Malcolm Cox, the Chief Marketing Officer at Grapeshot, a global technology company, agrees.

“There’s growing realization for brand marketers that context is king,” he said in an interview with marketing technology website

Cox suggests that contextual advertising allows brands the opportunity to maintain and improve their reputations and performance.10

Innovating the Future

In a recent report, Canadian publisher Valnet predicted contextual advertising will greatly impact the future of digital content.11

Valnet claims both audiences and publishers “can expect more influence from search engines and data-driven algorithms, and more relevant, contextual advertising.”12

Additionally, Joe Alderson, one of the report’s authors and director of ad operations, said: “As more ad dollars shift to the digital and mobile environments, content is being created around algorithms and formulas that make it highly searchable, more relevant for reaching advertisers’ target markets and able to drive organic traffic at lower costs.”13

This suggests that advertisements will be more targeted, niche and optimized, which should boost user engagement.14

As digital publishers and advertisers continue to search for solutions in an environment ripe with challenges, contextual advertising has certainly been able to move the needle.


1. Allman, Bill, Brian Kroski, and John Toth. “Can Quality Sell Quality?: Making the Case for Premium Content.” MediaPost Publishing Insider Summit. 2017.
2. “Whos Ignoring Which Ads?” MarketingCharts. N.p., 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 June 2017.
3. “What is Contextual Advertising? – Definition & Information.” Marketing Terms. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 June 2017.
5. “New Study Reveals More Effective Way for Brands to Connect with Consumers.” Business Wire. N.p., 16 Mar. 2016. Web. 21 June 2017.
9. Duduskar, Avinash. “Interview with Malcolm Cox, Chief Marketing Officer at Grapeshot.” MarTechSeries. N.p., 07 June 2017. Web. 21 June 2017.
10. IBID
11. Guaglione, Sara. “AI, Visual Storytelling Big Factors For Digital Publishing In 2017.” PublishersDaily. N.p., 29 Dec. 2016. Web. 21 June 2017.
12. IBID
13. IBID
14. IBID