Ad tech company GumGum sought to answer a question about as old as digital advertising itself: Is behavioral targeting more efficient than contextual targeting?
The question isn't new, though finding an answer to it has garnered significant interest in the last year. Increasing consumer privacy regulation coupled with dwindling of the third-party cookie has prompted marketers to search for viable alternatives that can achieve both scale and compliance. Apple and Firefox have already eliminated third-party cookies — the primary ingredient in behavioral targeting — from their respective browsers. And Google Chrome says it will follow suit next year. Meanwhile, more than a dozen states have passed some sort of consumer privacy legislation, most notably the Golden State with its California Consumer Privacy Protection Act, which became enforceable last July.
Before we get to the results, some specifics worth pointing out: GumGum is very much in the business of selling marketers its contextual advertising tools, but the company says it took significant steps to make sure it created an unbiased study.
The company worked with Dentsu Aegis Network over six months to find four different brands—Sephora, a major technology company, a big box retailer and a direct-to-consumer retailer—to participate in the study. The study overall served 1 million impressions: 200,000 to a behavioral ad line, and 200,000 to each of the contextual ad lines (GumGum Verity, Vendor A, Vendor B, Vendor C). The comparison for the cost-effectiveness of contextual vs. behavioral was comparing the 200,000 behavioral impressions against each of the 200,000 contextual ad lines independently. The ad units (728 x 90) also remained the same throughout, meaning no optimizations were made.
The brands provided descriptions of their intended audience, as well as contextually relevant categories for their campaign. GumGum also hired an independent research consultant, Michele Madansky, to oversee the design, implementation, reporting and analysis of the study.