Adventures in Contextual Relevance

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Most people, when confronted with an example of amazingly inappropriate contextual relevance such as this, believe that there is some higher level stupidity at work.  Certain industry blogs frequently latch onto examples of this sort of thing as an indication of poor marketing acumen.  What most people, including the ad bloggers, don’t understand is that this sort of thing is unintentional.  Online advertisers don’t purchase placements next to specific articles as there’s really no way to effectively do this.  This is because online publishers frequently have no “editorial calendar” primarily due to the frenetic pace of digital media. (When you can publish instantaneously rather than on a weekly or monthly basis, who has the incentive to plan ahead?)

Advertisers who run campaigns on large online publications are generally offered rotations around specific types of content.  I’m guessing, since this article was featured in the “Tech” section of Forbes, that Verizon has purchased media that runs within articles that fall into that category.  While it’s unfortunate/hilarious that they happen to have multiple ads next to an article advising people to avoid their services, it’s highly likely that a majority of their ads are featured next to precisely the sort of business technology pieces that attracted them to Forbes in the first place.  I don’t read Forbes frequently, but I’d be surprised to learn that they populate their tech section with a massive amount of content panning the wireless industry.  Considering this, I think it’s fair to say that a very low proportion of Verizon’s campaign impressions will run on this type of content.   To draw a sports analogy/cliche: I’d liken this scenario to when an offensive guard in the NFL is noticed only when he draws a penalty, as opposed to the other 95% of plays where he’s unheralded yet effective.

So while this sort of contextual miscue is certainly amusing, it’s unfair to say that Verizon or Forbes is at fault when this sort of thing happens.  Unlike in traditional print publishing, where ad sales people can anticipate which articles (and ads) will go where and avoid situations like this, the pace of online publishing simply doesn’t offer this luxury.  Something tells me that this line of reasoning would fall on deaf ears to folks in Verizon’s marketing department.


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