The Consumer-Friendly Wave of Digital Advertising

“In a world in which ads are becoming optional for users, the key to our industry’s success in the future will be delivering ads that people love, remember and share.”

Man in front of board pointing at "emotion"

This quote comes from Google’s Sandbox summary of their “There’s a Perfect Ad for Everyone” presentation. Their premise is that, right now, too many people are ignoring ads or using software to block ads. Advertisers and ad publishers need to find ways to counter this and get people not only to stop blocking their ads, but to actually engage with them.

Most advertisers, I hope, would agree. The key to success is delivering ads that people love, remember and share. It’s also respecting what consumers want and respecting their space and time.

This is where semantic advertising comes in.

In his article, The 3rd Wave for the Ad Industry, J. Brooke Aker (CEO of ADmantX) describes the first two waves as:

  1. The Internet media explosion of connectivity and multiple devices
  2. Technology that makes advertising efficient but leaves the user as an afterthought

No consumer wants to be an afterthought, right?

Semantic advertising is a more thoughtful method of online advertising. One that actually takes the reader’s emotions, behaviors, motivations and intentions into consideration. Ads are then placed on web pages based on the way the visitor to that page would react to the original content there.

Current digital advertising placement is often based on getting your ads in front of as many people as possible.

Semantic targeting is about getting your ad in the right place at the right time to elicit the right response from consumers.

You can get the response you want from digital advertising without annoying your customers, but you have to be willing to get your feet wet and catch the semantic advertising wave.

Get more details at Catch the Wave, the Third Wave of Digital Advertising. And if you have 36 minutes to spare, watch Neil Mohan’s entire speech on the future of display advertising.


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?

Ad Puke vs Banner Blindness: Are There Any Winners?

In a recent article, Brian Solis talked about “banner blindness”—how most people don’t even see web banner ads anymore.

It’s true, so advertisers are forced to become more creative…or more obnoxious in some cases. The worst ones spew ads at us like projectile vomiting.

Photo of woman puking, Finnish ad campaign

Ad puke. It’s the digital advertising world’s response to banner blindness.

How many times have you gone to a website only to have a giant pop-up ad obscure the screen? How many times have you found it difficult to locate the close button?

While I understand that advertisers and brands are trying to find new ways to make sure they catch your eye, I also know that with these sorts of ads, they run the risk of losing more people than they gain.

Risk is also an issue for any website that carries this kind of ad. As Kristine Elkins commented on my Google+ page:

Nothing makes me madder than a pop-up with no discernable close button. I don’t notice the content at all, I just search like crazy for the close button, and eventually if it’s too hard to find, close the browser altogether. What is this accomplishing from an advertising perspective? Maddening!

Is that what you want your audience to do—leave your website and leave feeling frustrated? Consider all the people that feel the same way Kristine does. It’s bad enough that advertisers create ads like these, but it’s just as bad that websites allow them.

What’s even worse are the TV shows that have pop-up banners that appear onscreen during a show or sports event. Nine times out of ten (my unofficial tally), these ads obscure something you want to see. That is truly maddening because there’s no way to close those ads yourself.

Does that mean all pop-up ads are bad? No.

There’s a difference between thoughtful advertising and ad puke. Advertisers must be mindful of this difference and be useful and relevant, while remaining as unobtrusive as possible.

And, they need to learn this lesson before they venture into social advertising (which is advertising right in your Twitter or Facebook stream).

The solution is very simple: Think and act based on the perspective of your audience. Or, let me put this in a way big brands can understand: Imagine going to your company’s website and having a giant ad for your competitor pop up…and you can’t find the close button.

That’s ad puke. And like all bad stains, it stays with you for a while. Not good, right? Now you know how the rest of us feel.


Brian Solis’ post went much more into social advertising. If you want to read about the report, check out Brian’s site. It’s lengthy but interesting. Also interesting is the story behind the photo I used. A few years ago Finnish breweries launched a campaign against binge drinking, using the slogan “You’re a jerk when you’re drunk!” Check it out.