Why Content Still Matters in the Ad Tech Sphere

Marketers aren't giving it as much attention as it needs

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Understanding your audience has always been vital to media planning and buying. Today, data-driven insights allow marketers to go beyond standard demographics and deploy much richer targeting. And with the predominance of programmatic, audience-driven planning and buying is more than at the fore. It has become standard operating procedure.

It’s not surprising that we’ve seemingly put audience needs above all else. Over the past decade, our industry gained access to an intoxicating amount of first- and third-party data. The ability to target based not only on demographics but also browsing history, purchase history and the like was too good an opportunity to pass up. New data and KPIs had the promise to identify and reduce significant amounts of media waste.

But the ad-tech industrial complex and its all-encompassing focus on audience—from data science to tech and infrastructure to media strategy—has created a problem. The focus on precision marketing has caused us to lose sight of the role that content plays and how it impacts environment in which these audiences encounter advertising.

As an industry, we’ve forgotten that content matters, that context matters, that real journalism matters. We got what we paid for, and now, it’s all coming back on us.

Understanding audience is important, sure, but audience without context is folly. Content is still king, and in fact, it represents a simpler means of reliably connecting with a desirable consumer base. There’s an awful lot that marketers can do by reaching someone in the right content environment that doesn’t require invasive use of data.

Content and context on their own represent incredibly effective targeting parameters. Not for nothing, but in a post-GDPR world these tried-and-true opportunities are not just the safe route, but also the smart route. Consumers want relevant advertising, yes, but they also want it to mesh with what they’re doing—and what content they’re consuming—at a given moment.

Returning content to its rightful place at the helm of media planning will also help to resolve some of marketers’ current creative challenges. As audiences have fragmented and marketers have taken to chasing them across the web, reaching users with the right creative message in the right environment has become increasingly difficult. Understanding environment from the start will allow advertisers to deliver smart and compelling creative based on knowledge of the content that will surround it.

Marketers must reestablish a fundamental rigor around understating the environment in which brands speak to consumers. But that does not mean stifling innovation around finding high-value audiences. The two endeavors are by no means mutually exclusive, but by re-prioritizing content’s role within targeting frameworks, brands can ensure they’re delivering on both the “right person” and the “right place and time” marketing imperatives.

It’s time for a return to fundamentals. Before marketers were hit by the big data tidal wave, our industry understood that where a brand’s ad appears matters rather than simply who sees it. In the race to leverage new capabilities to find the right person online, marketers forgot to seek them out in the right places.