Advertising evolves – but if you can’t master the basics you won’t maximise the impact

Digital marketing changes minute by minute, so why is context still vital to the advertising industry?

Rob Blake, MD UK at Channel Factory explains the enduring importance of understanding why, when and where you place your ads 

Context is what makes conversations flow. It impacts what we say, how we act and what we do. Context is embedded into politics and global relationships – its significance cannot be downplayed. Nor can its impact on the industry of advertising. Strategies and focus areas have evolved over the years, and digital advancements such as cookies being wiped from the internet in 2024, make marketers think on their feet and leave us never fully at ease – it’s part of the excitement of advertising. Despite the tumultuous nature of advertising, we have always been able to rely on the power of context. 

Evolution is everything

Nobody quite knows the origin of marketing. Some speculate that the industry began in around 35 B.C in Mesopotamia with mosaics of a famous fish sauce being found in an atrium, bearing the producer's personal brand and quality claims. Wine sellers and bakers began stamping their products with similar claims whilst building a ‘brand personality.’ Unfortunately, we have no ROI data for Mesopotamia but it shows how far we have come. From simply marketing products without targeting or context through branding, to the audience-driven, pinpoint-accurate YouTube advertisements we see today.

Since the dawn of the internet, advertising has moved at an astonishing pace being only limited by technological advances. That was until Google acquired YouTube in 2006 to become the world’s advertising platform – even if YouTube was originally designed to be a dating site! Google, and Facebook, had the unique opportunity to gather customer preferences and started targeting ads directly to the customer via audience targeting. It became known as the ‘golden age’ of advertising.

In the last five years, laws around data privacy have strengthened and consumers have become increasingly informed about their data rights. Advertisers needed to think on their feet and alter their strategies. Since 2017, brand safety and brand suitability became the mainstream focus, with several global brands having their reputation tarnished through advertising scandals. This ultimately led to a pause in their advertising until they re-strategised. In 2018/2019, governments started to create laws in Europe (GDPR) that limit the use of data sharing of individuals, and browsers started limiting cookie-based targeting.

Brave new world

With the Covid-19 pandemic, wide-scale protests for racial justice, and hugely influential presidential elections globally that caused a societal shift in the world, brands had to re-evaluate their positions on brand safety and content monetisation once again. Brands could not ignore this new social context, and many instead used marketing to become mechanisms for positive change. In fact, Channel Factory’s own research found that 69 percent of consumers would prefer to buy from brands committed to socially conscious causes.

Businesses looking for new methods of targeting need to cast their minds back to the 1930s, when specific content was chosen to advertise against based on generic audience profiling as opposed to using personal data to target specific individuals – this is contextual advertising.

This key advertising strategy has been the steady bedrock behind some of the most successful and memorable campaigns. Our research shows that 73 percent of consumers would be likely to buy from brands whose ads are relevant to the content they’re consuming on YouTube. From the dawn of the advertising industry to now, reaching your target audience in the right context has been an integral factor in any advertising strategy.

Why context matters

Channel Factory conducted a recent survey with GroupM on the value of context and the impact contextual alignment has on different verticals. The results were staggering, across all verticals, there was a 17 percent lift in ROI (sales) recognised by the agency for their clients that used contextual targeting on YouTube.

Contextual advertising can sometimes make brands sceptical or nervous about the content they should be seen alongside – however, this leads to an overly cautious and detrimental approach. Advertising practices can then unknowingly and/or unfairly penalise LGBTQ+, BIPOC and Disabled communities, for example, whilst content relating to social issues, identity, mental health and wellness can also be overlooked. If only brands knew the power they hold, and the value these communities can bring if they dialled down their cautious block lists.

Our world is always changing, and sometimes rapidly. If marketers want to make the most of context, they can’t rely on overly cautious block lists that can become outdated within a matter of days and instead should focus on inclusive lists that match brand suitability. Brands can use their advertising to become a force for good in an increasingly digital world. They can use context for more than just selling products. Contextual targeting can be the backbone of your marketing strategy long into the future, outside of just YouTube and across the open web.

Rob Blake


Channel Factory