Semantics. Advertisers, They’re Not Just for English Majors Anymore

Last week, I talked about ad puke—a thoughtless way of advertising that just wants to get in your face. This week, I’d like to introduce you to a more thoughtful approach—semantic advertising.

Digital advertising is not easy. You usually don’t have much space to get your message across and emotionally connect with the audience.

As I said in a recent post on, if you’re not responding to the emotion of consumers, you’re wasting your advertising dollars. So, the question is: How do you catch people emotionally in digital advertising?

The answer? Semantic targeting. 

Semantic targeting measures the sentiment of the content on the web page where your ad will be placed. The ad publisher then places ads on that page that relate to that assumed sentiment or emotional response of the reader. The intended result is that the reader is more likely to respond positively to your ad.

Ad placement with semantic targeting is much more nuanced than with keyword or contextual targeting.

Contextual targeting simply scans each page for keywords that match your criteria. You may be familiar with some of the mishaps that can occur using this method. If not, check out Econsultancy’s blog post (and try not to gasp in horror).

The picture below is a preview of what you’ll see there—and a reminder of what poor ad placement can do to your brand reputation.

Story about teacher hit by car with Toyota ad pop-up

Behavioral targeting is another method—which some advertisers love and many consumers hate. It relies on tracking consumers’ online behaviors by placing cookies on the page visitors’ browsers. Then it shows ads that relate to that history of behaviors.

In fairness, sometimes these ads work very well (see an example here). But they can feel a bit creepy too—like someone is watching your every online move. And the FTC is currently considering creating a “Do Not Track” system for easy opt-out of these ads—more reason to consider a new approach.

As a consumer, I like semantic advertising because it makes me feel safer and I don’t feel like someone’s watching me. I feel like there’s more of an effort to show me ads that fit.

As an advertiser, I feel smarter because I’m targeting audiences based on their thoughts and feelings, not just on keywords. This helps me place ads that relate to consumers’ motivations to buy.

What do you think? Out of the three—contextual, behavioral and semantic—which do you prefer?



  1. Ryan Gerardi (@autoburst) · August 17, 2011

    Whoa that Toyota ad example is funny. Semantic targeting seems like it is a natural progression for display advertising. I imagine it will become the norm soon enough.

    • ctmarcom · August 17, 2011

      I think so too–that semantic targeting will become the norm. The advantages are clear. Makes me also wonder what’s coming next.

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