In January of 2010, Clear Channel Radio announced the ability to automatically and reliably insert any length of audio spot immediately after specific programming or commercial spots based entirely on content. This is known as contextual or semantic advertising. It was announced that several test campaigns for major national advertisers VISA, GEICO and Wal-Mart, produced outstanding results for the advertisers. And then, as quickly as this exciting technology appeared … it seems to have disappeared. As a Traffic Manager, I was fascinated with this innovation and have continued to research the topic, but there’s nothing out there beyond the launching press releases. What happened? Where did it go? Perhaps Clear channel is still using this technology, but if so, why are there not more conversations about it and why are other radio companies not jumping on this innovative idea?

So what is it? Traditionally, contextual advertising is a form of targeted advertising in which the content of an ad is in direct correlation to the content of the web page the user is viewing. For example, if you are visiting a website concerning traveling in Europe and see an ad pop up offering a special price on a flight to Italy, that’s contextual advertising. If you use Gmail, you’ll see this at work all the time.  The ads served are usually related to the contents of the email. 

Several ways this technology can be utilized by radio companies. First is through on air dialogue. Maybe your morning show is talking about coffee and how they need it to keep themselves going during their early morning shift. What a perfect time for a Starbucks ad to air. Top of mind and relevant to the conversation. 

Through using contextual advertising, it’s also possible for advertisers to target industries they would like to be associated with. Spot following spot. In one of the initial test campaigns, Clear Channel took the ad theme a step further by placing GEICO’s :15 radio spots immediately after ads from auto, motorcycle and other vehicle makers. So, for example, a Ford ad would be followed by a GEICO ad. Endless options here: phone makers following phone services, any food product following grocery stores or shoe maker following department store.

Another area in which contextual advertising can land a starring role is in on air content. Just browsing through the top 10 songs on this weeks Billboard Hot 100, 4 of the top 10 songs have product placement in the lyrics. So if you are a Top 40 or hot ac station, it’s likely that roughly 40% of the content you are airing has product placement built in. That’s a prime candidate for contextual advertising. Play hip hop? You’ve hit the lottery with artists chronicling their high-rollin’ lifestyles. And this technology can be used within any format, though some will need deeper monitoring than others. 

Also among initial test campaigns, Clear Channel’s service ran a Walmart commercial for the ACDC ”Black Ice” CD. But, instead of using only demographic targeting, Clear Channel ran the ad immediately after the same ACDC song on FM stations across 91 markets. So, in this case, Clear Channel used musical context as the cue to pair contextually relevant ads.

Lastly, contextual advertising can work for a radio station in which its origins began … the web page. Let’s say a listener is streaming your station when Travie McCoy featuring Bruno Mars’s Billionaire plays. In this song, Bruno sings, “I wanna be on the cover of forbes magazine”. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if the banner ad on your web page and streaming player could automatically serve a Forbes Magazine ad? 

Yes, there are potential pitfalls in the world of contextual advertising. A funeral service company running a spot associated with a story of someone dying would not be good. It happens, but usually from poor execution or very wide scoped projects. Spoken word stations would be most susceptible to these mishaps.  Although contextual advertising has attracted some controversy through the use of targeting, radio station use would not fall under behavioral targeting. There is no tracking involved. It is after all the station pushing the content, not the listener or web page viewer. 

Contextual advertising has made a major impact on earnings of many websites and it’s clear that radio is leaving money on the table by not implementing this technology. Everyone benefits. Contextual ads will show up in spots highly appropriate to its content, thus driving the likelihood of a positive response for listeners. More likely to be clicked or acted upon which is beneficial to your clients. Sold at a premium thus generating additional revenue for the radio station. Contextual advertising is a win/win/win and should be shaping our industry to better address advertising content that is relevant to the content of the radio station. 

Those 4 songs ….

Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO Featuring Lauren Bennett & GoonRock (product = drano)

Lighters by Bad Meets Evil Featuring Bruno Mars (products = audi, aston & mtv)

Super Bass by Nicki Minaj  (product = polo)

Cheers (Drink To That) by Rihanna  (products = jameson & ray-ban)