Predictions 2024: Contextual Advertising

In the first of our Predictions series, we take a look at contextual advertising. Projected to experience a 13.8% growth annually, between now and 2030, contextual is poised to redefine the digital marketing landscape, with a resurgence that is fuelled by increasing privacy concerns and technological advancements.

As we enter an ad tech era that will undoubtedly be defined as post-cookie, contextual advertising will emerge as a cornerstone for brands seeking to engage with consumers through more privacy-compliant and contextually relevant methods. Many within the industry are increasingly looking towards contextual advertising as the bridge between user privacy and effective targeting. Traditional reliance on cookies and personal data is being challenged, making contextual methods more appealing to both advertisers and consumers.

To provide a comprehensive understanding of these trends, contextual predictions will delve into insights from industry experts. Figures like Ryan McBride, strategy lead at Illuma, and StackAdapt's Samantha Allison, director, client services, EMEA, will share their predictions and insights, offering a multi-dimensional perspective on the future of contextual advertising in 2024.

Contextual advertising will increasingly prioritise privacy, relevance, and AI efficiency

In 2024, with the shift towards a cookieless environment, Venatus is anticipating significant changes in contextual advertising, emphasising relevance and privacy more than ever.

Hyper-granular targeting around gaming and entertainment means that advertisers can use contextual models to target audiences at scale with minimal waste. Coupled with cookieless signals such as attention and engagement, these models mean advertisers can still spend at scale and generate ROI.

However, the pressing challenge remains in attribution - measuring success in this new contextually driven environment. And of course, the industry as a whole will embrace AI technologies to better understand content and audience behaviour, ensuring optimal ad placements that drive results for advertisers and publishers.

Dave Barr, CRO, Venatus

Enhanced privacy and industry synergy to define contextual in 2024 and beyond

With Google's cookie deprecation deadline looming, now is the time for the industry to test, refine and diversify their strategies. 2024 will bring a greater focus for both publishers and advertisers on combining privacy-first solutions to future-proof strategies.

We'll see a greater focus on contextual with increased efforts to leverage both contextual data and universal identifiers, including probabilistic and deterministic for more effective monetisation after a tough year economically in 2023.

There will be a race to interoperability, and we hope this brings the industry together vs. further fragmenting it. CTV also continues to become a more important piece of marketer’s cross-channel video strategies, and we'll see advertisers increase their requests for contextual data on a show level programmatically, and in 2024 we believe more content providers will do so; even if it’s with strict spend commitments.

Jenn Chen, president and CRO, Connatix

Scale uncertainty will see greater reliance on contextual targeting to extend campaign delivery

With the depreciation of third-party cookies, we’ll increasingly see the market lean on first-party data and durable ID concepts as their primary audience replacement mechanisms. These frameworks are absolutely a step in the right direction, but advertisers and publishers have flagged some concerns, mainly around scale uncertainty. This will likely result in the market relying on contextual targeting to extend campaign delivery.

As we watch many tech vendors shift their market positioning to focus on contextual, the genuine advancements are at the intersection of ad tech and AI, complementing traditional contextual and with a focus on outcomes.

The transition away from third-party cookies will not be easy, but in a few years, I expect we’ll look back and realise our dependency on legacy data concepts was actually holding the industry back from embracing true innovation.

Ryan McBride, strategy lead, Illuma

Digital advertising will be forever changed by the loss of individual-level data

We may be sick of talking about it, but, if you can tune out the buzz around AI, then it’s the sunsetting of third-party cookies that’s going to have the biggest impact on digital advertising next year. There’s been speculation — and perhaps wishful thinking — that involvement from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority will kick the can further down the road. However, Google's timeline, even with all interventions taken into account, still places the deprecation date within 2024. This will mark the end of an era and usher in a new paradigm where advertisers will have to make do without widely available individual-level data to serve targeted ads.

Contextual advertising, which has experienced multiple evolutionary leaps recently, thanks to AI, is likely to become the de-facto targeting and addressability framework of the post-cookie ecosystem, particularly in environments where authenticated users are in short supply.

Sergii Denysenko, CEO, MGID

2024's game-changer will be contextual platforms integrating first-party data for brand-targeted audiences

Many digital advertising technologies will undergo AI-powered transformation next year, and contextual targeting is no different. What was once a laborious process that relied on manual tagging of articles and inelegant keyword recognition is increasingly automated through semantically aware AIs that can interpret content with near-human understanding, at superhuman scale and speed. Notably, contextual audiences are advancing capabilities beyond predefined categories, enabling buyers to leverage AI to pinpoint the most relevant pages and interests across the open web for their objectives.

It is undeniable that a brand’s first-party data holds the keys to smarter marketing. Traditional approaches of modelling this data need to evolve in line with the changing identity and privacy landscape. The game-changer next year will be the emergence of contextual platforms offering the ability to onboard first-party data in a privacy-compliant approach, identifying the most relevant contextual interests and audiences to a brand’s customer.

Nick Timms, global SVP of Strategy, Seedtag

Multi-channel contextual solutions will be an urgent priority for digital advertising

There are a lot of different variations of contextual solutions which are all being lumped into the same bucket, making it increasingly difficult for marketers to compare one against another. Next year, as we approach the deprecation of third-party cookies, we’ll see more urgency for multi-channel contextual solutions to move outside of just mobile and desktop web.

Marketers will need to educate themselves and develop a more granular knowledge of contextual advertising, as well as test partners. They’ll be looking to understand the basic premises of the contextual platforms and how they're solving their problems — for example, whether it is at the data provider level, through partnerships, or through advancements of large language models.

Evgeny Popov, EVP & GM, international, Verve Group

Ad relevancy should remain a top priority

The advertising world is constantly changing, strategies considered foolproof now may not work in the coming months. Advertisers seeking ROI improvements must continuously experiment with channel mix, and their targeting and measurement strategies to identify the most effective approach.

Another important factor to consider is ads being delivered to consumers based on what they are actually interested in and this is where we expect contextual tools to thrive.

With contextual, ads are targeted based on the content the audience is consuming in the present moment, ensuring that they are captured in the right frame of mind to be receptive to the ads. Someone engrossed in an article about coffee machines is more likely to engage positively with a coffee-related ad than one about maple syrup.

Advancements in contextual advertising are a game-changer as we head towards the post-cookie world, as contextual provides an alternative to a reliance on third-party data.

Samantha Allison, director, client services, EMEA, StackAdapt

Both publishers and buyers will utilise contextual in programmatic buying

As privacy concerns continue to shape the digital advertising ecosystem, I expect the contextual targeting to experience a constant evolution, to become a linchpin for both programmatic and direct advertising campaigns. Being a privacy-friendly alternative to third party cookies, if done right, it will definitely flourish, both in the form of implementations done by the publishers and buyers. This will allow to seamlessly integrate the learnings from programmatic buying into the direct campaign, to help the buyers to optimise ad spend and increase the effective CPM rates they are willing to spend in 2024.

Advanced machine learning and AI algorithms will make it possible to better understand the content and context of the page, but also anticipate user behaviour. This will also allow for more precise ad placement (even to the extent of disabling specific ad units), increasing the relevance and effectiveness of ads, fostering less intrusive user experience.

Krzysztof Lis, deals and consultancy expert, Yieldbird