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Behavioral Targeting vs Contextual Targeting: A Hybrid Approach

Post-cookie targeting has split into two camps. Behavioral targeting vs contextual targeting. But do we really need to pit these techniques against each other? What if digital marketers combined their approach? Could they see better results? 

We answer those questions below. But first what exactly is contextual and behavioral targeting? 

  • Contextual Targeting: This strategy matches ads with audiences by analyzing the content and context of the page or media being viewed.
  • Behavioral Targeting: This approach uses identifiers and various data points to craft detailed profiles for targeting specific audience segments.


The Case for a Hybrid Approach

As the deadline for cookie deprecation approaches, there’s a noticeable trend where aggressive marketing strategies position these as competing solutions, each claiming to be the ultimate advertising tool that brands require. But there is a third, more collaborative approach: behavioral and contextual targeting used together. Each method has its unique advantages and limitations, making them suitable for specific types of campaigns. By combining them, advertisers can achieve a more effective strategy.

Contextual & Behavioral Targeting Working Together 

It’s helpful if we take a look at some real life examples. Consider the following two situations where contextual targeting and behavioral targeting work together to produce better results. 

Example #1 

Consider a scenario where a credit card company aims to sponsor a football event. Contextual targeting would enable the placement of ads among football enthusiasts, yet this approach alone might cast too wide a net, failing to meet the brand’s specific goals. This is where behavioral targeting enhances the strategy, pinpointing individuals within the football fan base who are also potential credit card customers based on their financial status or age, thus refining the targeting for greater precision. Similarly, campaigns that disqualify certain audiences, like those not in the market for a credit card but perhaps interested in savings accounts, benefit from this layered approach.

Example #2 

Conversely, a travel promotion campaign could thrive on contextual targeting’s ability to identify individuals actively researching holiday destinations, providing a prime opportunity for airlines or hotels to target ads to potential customers at a critical moment in the purchase journey. Contextual targeting excels by identifying specifics such as destination interest, travel budget, and mode of transportation.


Benefits of Contextual & Behavioral Targeting Working Together

The synergy between behavioral and contextual targeting can further amplify advertising effectiveness. 

For instance:

  • Behavioral data can guide the selection of the most responsive audience segments and environments.
  • Contextual campaigns can then focus on these identified segments and environments, ensuring ads are placed where they’ll have the greatest impact.
  • Feedback from the behavioral data of the contextual campaign can validate the accuracy of targeting and inform improvements for future initiatives.

In essence, behavioral targeting offers deep insights into audience characteristics, while contextual targeting ensures that ads are delivered in the most relevant settings.

It’s crucial to acknowledge the cyclical nature of advertising trends. In the era before programmatic buying, contextual targeting was predominant. The shift towards programmatic introduced a focus on targeting specific audiences across a vast network of publishers. With rising concerns over privacy and the need for addressability, contextual targeting is once again in the spotlight.

The history of advertising demonstrates that neither approach will become outdated. Brands and agencies should be wary of any claim that one single solution suffices. Embracing a diverse toolkit—integrating both behavioral and contextual targeting—enables the flexibility and adaptability essential for navigating today’s intricate and segmented digital landscape. Successful brands are those that adopt a comprehensive approach to advertising technology, balancing and blending different strategies for optimal results.

A version of this piece was originally published in Decision Marketing

Lotame can help with both your behavioral and contextual advertising strategy. Learn more about our high quality audience segments from the world’s largest, trusted data marketplace, Lotame Data Exchange. Choose from pre-packaged, custom, or proprietary Lotame Precision Demographic and Intent audiences. Contact us to learn more.