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It’s time for contextual to get creative and adaptive to level up

Hindsight CEO Hersh Patel explains how contextual targeting is getting smarter, more creative and adaptive, resulting in “a landscape where the interests of publishers, advertisers and users exist in harmony.”

4 min read

Digital Technology

It’s time for contextual to get creative and adaptive to level up

Gerd Altmann / Pixabay

Contextual targeting has been around for over a decade, but there is a new wave building – it’s getting smarter, more creative and adaptive. The latest innovations in contextual are seeing intelligence and adaptive creative work together to yield an improved experience for the entire ecosystem — users, advertisers and publishers.

The over dependence on third-party cookies has made the adtech industry complacent and shortsighted. With the death of the cookie approaching, adtech will be able to drive forward with innovation and disruption to create a stronger ecosystem for brands, users and publishers. While Google may have put a temporary stay on the execution of the cookie, this is not time for the industry to take its foot off of the gas. It’s an exciting time that’s driving innovation and creativity again. One of the areas seeing the most advancement is contextual targeting. While contextual has been around for over a decade, it is going through a renaissance – getting smarter, more creative and adaptive.

Traditional contextual targeting – where the creative ad parameters are fixed – is showing its weaknesses. Think about how ads are created and placed across the web, brands work with demand-side platforms and data management platforms to place an ad with fixed creative against the right audience and content parameters. This framework is rigid – providing limited flexibility on the range of messaging in ad creative to align with user environments. For instance, the technology determines an article is about basketball so an existing ad is served that is sports related (if you’re lucky). But today, contextual is growing smarter – it can learn from the content around it and adapt to it to change the content of the ad unit itself to deliver a native and seamless user experience.

All the conversations around the cookie have presented the industry with an opportunity to do what it should have done from the beginning – make protecting user data privacy a priority. Contextual targeting is a strategy that satisfies the values of all stakeholders – the user, the publisher and the brand. The user does not have to worry about privacy issues, the publisher can enhance their content with relevant ads and the brand can get in front of the right users in a brand safe environment.

The question really is, how do you make contextual targeting as effective, if not more effective, than user targeting. The answer is to leverage adaptive and use contextual to make advertising more integrated into content. In this way, not only do you keep the user’s privacy safe, but you deliver a superior experience to them as well.

The main value of adaptive creative is using content signals to not only just target an ad but to dynamically create an ad to be granularly aligned with an article or a user. The user is constantly signaling intent based on the content subject matter of what they are reading, which is a more reliable indicator of purchase behavior than targeting based on previous browsing habits.

Ads can be formulated by plucking specific references from an article and tying them to your brand. Your brand can stay with the reader throughout their journey while your message dynamically changes to flow with content and readers’ interests. Adaptive creative is what native advertising should have looked like all along. Engaging users at their peak point of interest ensures a brand’s messages are delivered when a user is in a receptive state of mind, and ultimately makes ads they find useful versus just want to ignore.

The next wave of contextual targeting is growing and it will help define the future course of the adtech industry. Of course, contextual by itself is not the panacea. The brands that will see the most success will be the ones who use the extra time with the cookie to test new technologies – thinking about contextual in a more advanced manner and how it can layer in with first-party data and universal idea solutions.

It’s an exciting opportunity for the industry to finally come together to create a landscape where the interests of publishers, advertisers and users exist in harmony – rather than at odds – as they co-exist in a cookieless landscape.


Hersh Patel is the founder and CEO of Hindsight, the company powering a cookie-less web through contextual targeting. He was named to the 2021 Forbes’ 30 Under 30 – Media list, which recognizes the entrepreneurs that are defining and driving the world of news and content. Previously, he held positions with Goldman Sachs and Macquarie Group. He is a graduate of the NYU Stern School of Business.