Jun 30th 2021

What Is Contextual Ad Targeting?

Changes in Apple’s digital privacy policies require a thoughtful return to contextual advertising in order for mobile marketers to reach and engage the right audiences.

In the digital world, contextual ad targeting began on desktop, then shifted to mobile, then became less common as behavioral targeting evolved. Ad personalization and precision targeting based on user-level behavioral data allowed marketers to track and target the users most likely to engage with their campaigns.

In the decade that followed, increased emphasis on digital privacy gradually put an end to the behavioral gold rush. New legislation and privacy-forward technologies like Apple’s App Tracking Transparency framework forced a new era for mobile advertising or, rather, a return to an old one. Read on to learn more.

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What is contextual ad targeting?
Contextual ad targeting versus behavioral targeting
Contextual ad targeting versus contextual app targeting
Contextual app targeting: A solution for the post-IDFA world
Contextual app targeting signals for mobile devices
App information
Device information
Creative information
The right partner

What is contextual ad targeting?

Contextual ad targeting is the practice of pairing advertisements with relevant media based on the relationship between their respective subject matters in the interest of improving campaign performance.

This is in contrast to behavioral ad targeting, which dynamically targets users based on previous activities that could telegraph their likelihood to engage with a specific type of ad. Put another way, contextual ad targeting takes into consideration the state of the user/audience at the time the ad is served, as opposed to leveraging historical information about that specific user’s interests.

Contextual advertisers use a number of variables, topics, and/or keywords relevant to their audience, which they share with their digital media source who then employs any number of methods to pair the advertisement with content, topics, keywords, and images that align with the parameters set by the advertiser. When a match is found, an ad is served.

Though it’s up to the advertiser to determine what topics and keywords best correlate with their ad, some ad networks also allow advertisers to specify how close a match is required. If the advertiser allows a broad reach, the content may just need minor similarity. For example, an ad for a yoga mat might land on content related to physical flexibility or emotional equanimity. A web page would need to include target keywords to match a more specific reach. A key differentiator of the yoga mat in our example might be that it’s made from recycled materials; an advertiser could create a narrow reach using keywords like “eco-friendly yoga mat” or “green exercise equipment.”

Contextual ad targeting versus behavioral targeting

It’s valuable to contrast contextual ad targeting with behavioral targeting, which was the industry standard prior to mobile IDFA restrictions on iOS. Behavioral targeting gathers data from multiple sources to form a picture of a user’s online shopping history and browsing tendencies and ties that data to a unique identifier. Marketers can then target “lookalike” users who share these behavioral patterns and craft ad campaigns tailored to their specific predilections. Behavioral targeting is effective because it pairs an ad with an audience predisposed to engage with it.

Contextual ad targeting versus contextual app targeting

Contextual app targeting is the use of app metadata, device information, or other contextual signals to target a mobile user in cases where a device identifier isn’t available. It follows the same principles as contextual advertising but draws from a different set of data points. Apps don’t typically contain a plethora of text, making it difficult, if not impossible, to target based on keywords. Contextual app targeting uses the same idea of leveraging available information to target users but takes its cues from app and device data, rather than web page content.

Contextual app targeting: A solution for the post-IDFA world

Concerns about digital privacy led to a number of restrictions that dramatically changed the kind of information mobile advertisers can collect. Policies like GDPR and CCPA now require that advertisers ask a user’s permission to track their online behavior.

Meanwhile, Apple implemented App Tracking Transparency which asks users’ permission to collect in-app data, limiting the power of the IDFA. While some users give permission freely, the data pool is much smaller than it used to be. Contextual app targeting uses another pool of information — details about a user’s device and apps — to connect consumers with ads that they’re more likely to engage with.

Also Read: What Is App Tracking Transparency (ATT) and How Does It Affect Mobile Marketing?

Contextual app targeting isn’t as precise as targeting via IDFA, but emerging technologies like machine learning let mobile marketers continue to reach their ideal audiences and run profitable campaigns. With the proper identifiers and data, contextual traffic can provide the kind of quality some believe is only possible with IDFA.

Contextual app targeting signals for mobile devices

App information

Apps themselves provide some of the most basic, but also most relevant, information about the users using them. The app’s category and subcategory in the Apple Store or Google Play Store, along with the version in use, provide a general idea as to the taste of the user. The person playing a word game might enjoy other word games, for example, whereas someone using an app that’s several versions out of date might be responsive to ads for a newer app in the same genre.

App information signals include:

  • App version
  • App Store category and subcategory
  • Impression depth
  • Prior click
  • Completion rate

Device information

Anyone who’s ever tried to use their partner or friend’s phone knows the way we configure our devices can be highly personal. It also provides a number of touchpoints that mobile marketers can use to determine key identifiers. Settings like Dark Mode, whether audio is on or off, and even battery level can paint a picture of the user that’s helpful for mobile ad targeting.

The time difference from UTC and language preferences reveals the user’s general geographical location. These are all data points that can be collected without violating the consumer’s right to privacy or running afoul of Apple’s guidelines. Mobile marketers can use contextual ad targeting to target users based on these kinds of details, then test their ad campaigns against them to dial in their campaigns even further.

Device information signals include:

  • Keyboard language
  • Available and total storage space
  • Hardware version
  • Time difference from UTC
  • Dark Mode setting
  • Bluetooth connection

Creative information

As much as people like to think of themselves as bold risk-takers, the truth is most consumers tend to gravitate toward products they know they’ll like. Ad creatives provide a wealth of signals mobile marketers can use for contextual targeting, such as mood or player motivation.

An ad featuring a hyper-realistic soldier doesn’t fit alongside a game featuring a cute cartoon puppy. The player looking to climb a leaderboard is unlikely to pay much attention to an ad promising a “chill” experience. The insights gained from collecting these kinds of data points can greatly enhance campaign targeting.

Creative information signals include:

  • Genre fit
  • Visual elements
  • Moods and styles
  • Player motivation appeal

The right partner

Contextual ad targeting allows advertisers to maximize their ad budget by bidding on high-value impressions, even when IDFA is not present. It also helps ensure accurate attribution so app marketers can continue to have visibility into which networks drive the most ROAS.

The right partner gives you the power to leverage data in real-time to ensure you’re optimizing your spend. With the acquisition of GameRefinery, Vungle provides exceptional contextual targeting with more than 700 category-specific variables included in GameRefinery’s creative intelligence platform. To learn more about how Vungle can get you the results you’re after, get in touch to learn more.

Vungle Marketing

Vungle Marketing

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