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Contextualizing to the Web, Not the Page

Ever notice you don't hear any ads for clothes when you listen to the radio? Flip through a magazine, they're everywhere. On the radio, non-existent. The reason is obvious: clothes are visual and the radio is not. The point is that not all things are meant to be advertised on all mediums.

I wrote a bit about this the other day when I asked whether brand advertisers were actually going to migrate to the web. Everyone presumes they will - what, with TV viewers, newspaper readers and radio listeners each shrinking daily. The logic being that if those forms of media continue to decline audience wise, brand advertisers will have to go to the web because it'll be the only game in town - or one of a few anyway.

Lately when I've been thinking about contextual advertising, I haven't been thinking about it in terms of how an ad can be made contextual to the content of a web page, but rather how and if an ad is and can be contextual to the web period. In other words, what products and services are conducive to web advertising in general, never mind the form?

The obvious answer to that question are those things that are related to the web. Everyday people come to the web to read, write, watch and listen to certain classes of products and services. If your in those businesses, the web is a great medium. For instance, if your sitting in Hollywood and want to have your next picture promoted online, you should feel good. There are all sorts of paces that people go to watch trailers, get reviews, discuss plots, gossip about stars, etc. that are perfect outlets for your advertising. Same with cars, books, etc.

But what if you make soap? Or toothpaste? Or whiskey? Or shoelaces? Where's the right place to advertise those online? Sure you could do some banner ad buy and hope that some percentage of people actually notice your ad, but since they they won't, it'll be ineffective. So is the web the right place for you to spend marketing dollars? Probably not. Unless you can find people actively looking for informtation on your product - i.e. Google. Other than that, shampoo ads online seem like clothes ads on the radio: out of place.

So what does all this mean? Well, as soap, toothpaste, etc. ads can be contextualized to the TV and the radio (the passive viewing experience), there are advertising dollars spent there. But when you're sizing up the web advertising market in the future, I'm not sure you can include all of the old TV, radio and newspaper spends. Some things might not make it.


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Comments (1)

Though, why is soap and other CPG "contextual" to TV or magazines? The whole point of the distinction between "brand" advertising and performance advertising (ie: AdWords) is that when spreading the brand you aren't interested in a direct transaction, necessarily. More to the point, you can't be -- you don't buy soap other than in the store (or the very tiny slice of the market that goes to drugstore.com and its ilk), so to keep a certain brand of soap top of mind you need to create the impressions during the rest of someone's life. It's a conundrum, to be sure, how to do that kind of brand building in an ever-more saturated media landscape.

I also think there's a basic assumption in your post that "banner ads" is all there is -- the real challenge in terms of contextualizing for the web is for ad supported destinations (and the ad networks that power many of them) to get more creative about how to do promotion beyond simple IAB-standard units. You are certainly correct that just buying a bunch of banner ads is not a very potent way to sell shampoo, but that has more to do with the low persuasive nature of a banner ad (at least relative to a 30 second spot) than that it's "on the web".

In short, I agree we must strive to contextualize promotion for the web, and that the banner is a fairly weak format for doing brand promotion, but I also believe there is a giant opportunity in finding ways to bring web context to brand advertising.

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