Contextual and Native Come Together to Help Advertisers Win the Open Web

Contextual and Native Come Together to Help Advertisers Win the Open Web

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As the digital industry zooms toward 2024, and with it the end of the reign of the third-party cookie, advertisers and publishers alike are building up their contextual advertising chops. With so many new challenges arising for accurate and efficient audience targeting, the industry is turning to page context to ensure relevance and deliver value — and publishers and advertisers have the tools to put context to use. Indeed, in the post-cookie realm, context will be king — but we’re not talking enough about how native ads will be the crown jewel. 

The promise of native advertising is that it matches the look and feel of the publisher page, delivering a seamless overall experience to the user, and investment in native demonstrates the faith advertisers have in its ability to fulfill that promise. In 2022, native spend constituted 61.6% of all display spend. Total investment in native hit $87.03 billion last year, and is projected to grow nearly 12% to $97.46 billion in 2023. It certainly doesn’t hurt that native ads have higher click-through rates than standard display. And the promise of contextual is that it aligns the message of the ad with the topic, content category, or tone of the content.

Both methods take a natural and intuitive approach, rather than a disruptive and distracting one. If a seamless experience is the goal, context may even be a more appropriate mode for targeting native campaigns than third-party cookie targeting ever was.

More relevance and customization – inherently

Native advertising recognizes there is value in the environment where the ad is shown – that is, in page content and context. The environment always matters in a well-executed native strategy – it’s not enough to simply place an ad on any page, as long as it reaches the target audience. The page itself tells you about the interests of the audience that views it. It’s also in the basic nature of native to customize the creative to suit the page. With compelling, well-thought-out ad creative, native and context together open up new opportunities to truly align creative and content.

And contextual tools, by their own nature, allow advertisers to trust that the content and environment is relevant to their campaigns. This matters greatly at a time when rapid shifts in trending stories and widespread misinformation online are making advertisers extra-cautious about upholding their brand safety and suitability standards. It’s not just about brand reputation, but about the bottom line – 61% of consumers say they’re less likely to purchase from a brand that they’ve seen advertised adjacent to harmful, inappropriate content.

Aligning the right creative with the right pages and environments is essential in a successful native campaign, and context helps advertisers make good use of the “known knowns” in content and context. Context can deliver insights about how to approach seasonality and other typically recurring trends. From there, it’s up to the advertiser and their native partner to craft a campaign that speaks to where consumers’ minds are in that period of time. When advertising is well-aligned with relevant trends, it generally performs better than simply targeting audience characteristics and behavior.

Let’s clarify what it means to truly get aligned with the consumer’s interest and mindset. One of the great benefits of today’s native that certain partners offer is customization and flexibility. A fine way to miss the mark in a campaign is to take creative assets that perform well in one channel, and port them over to every channel. If the advertiser or partner doesn’t consider how to customize for specific environments, they’ll leave much of the value of native on the table. This is especially true in mobile – on the mobile screen, advertisers don’t have the luxury of neglecting the look and feel of the creative.  

Cut-and-paste creative alone won’t fly

Advertisers can learn some valuable lessons by looking at how native is implemented in mobile. Expedia Group Media Solutions took note that flight bookings on mobile, in-app and in-browser, increased 20% YOY in 2022. The company recognized they needed to expertly align their advertising with relevant travel content, and leaned into native to boost engagement after getting that important contextual alignment. Gaming developers are, in many ways, ahead of the curve on recognizing the importance of context and native working hand in hand. One of the last things a game developer wants to do is disrupt the flow of play and break the player’s engagement with the game. And the stakes are high – not only because it takes thought and creativity to deliver a seamless ad experience on a tiny screen, but also because user acquisition costs in mobile gaming are often quite high.

Contextual targeting on relevant content and topics brings about a natural alignment. And native ad formats offer the opportunity for advertisers to think outside the banner, and develop creative that feels naturally integrated into the game. Advertisers should explore how successful in-game native campaigns are being deployed today, to inspire their own native/contextual campaigns on their platforms and channels of choice.

The AI advantage for optimizing creative

Over the last few years, the ad industry has come to embrace AI for its capacity to take personalization to the next level – and to do so in a deeply engaging fashion. For native, where the promise of native formats is that they can adapt to the look and feel of the page and overall experience at scale, this is a big deal, and it enables advertisers to use dynamic creative optimization (DCO) in a more nuanced fashion than ever before. Brands can use their existing creative assets from their owned and operated digital properties to enable highly relevant dynamic experiences for consumers; AI opens the door to optimize these experiences, and to make them scalable and cost-effective.

But that’s not the only way AI is moving the needle on native campaigns. Now AI can give brands the ability to inject their specific campaign goals directly into the ad unit, to dynamically optimize their creative configuration for campaign objectives in just the right moment and environment. This is truly transformational in driving personalization and performance at scale to enable brands to meet their goals. 

With native and context working together, advertisers can develop engaging and relevant campaigns that can scale across the open web. At a time when so much user data is owned by walled gardens, threatening campaigns’ scale, advertisers are compelled to take note of how a native/contextual strategy can not only keep business running as usual – but to improve campaign performance.