Is Targeting Killing Content Advertising?

Despite surge in ad tech, context is still critical

Thanks to an ad tech company boom, advertisers have more and more ways to reach people based on their individual characteristics, not necessarily the content they consume. So does that mean content doesn’t matter anymore? And that targeted advertising is going to conquer the Web?

Those were the provocative questions posed at a panel during Business Insider’s Ignition conference Wednesday afternoon. But thankfully (for those who produce original content), the answer still seems to be no.

Despite the surge in algorithm-powered targeting technologies, the panelists agreed that targeted and content advertising are not, and shouldn’t be, in conflict.

“I think content does matter, particularly if it’s very targeted and engages audiences in a way that they don’t have to,” said Brian Grey, CEO of the Bleacher Report.

Ted Phillips, CEO of marketing technology company M6D, said content “absolutely” matters, adding that the best targeted advertising is done against an audience and the context in which that audience can be found.

“For the most part, that promise is not fulfilled, and a lot of targeting algorithms ignore the context piece,” he said. “But they ignore at their peril. It should be a blend of the two.”

When polled, the audience members unanimously agreed that content was still critical. But Brian O’Kelley, co-founder and CEO of AppNexus, pointed out that content and targeted advertising are hardly mutually exclusive.

“I think the term 'targeted advertising' is inane. It doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “All advertising is targeted.”

The panelists also echoed the themes of an earlier panel on digital advertising, in which eMarketer CEO Geoff Ramsey said that there should be a stronger connection between the ad tech and creative communities.

“There is a need in this medium for a stronger marriage between [them]. The problem is there’s a huge structural hindrance at the agency level,” said Phillips. “I think we all, as an industry, are disappointed in the evolution of creative and media that we think has huge possibilities and hasn’t been taken advantage of.”