Effective online advertising can be a tough cookie to crack, if you will pardon the pun. Relying on browsing history generated by cookies, user profiling or key words in text can be inaccurate and often results in advertising that, rather than connecting with the audience, alienates them and is simply ignored.

To succeed, online advertising has to immediately connect with the audience and capture their attention. Importantly, it needs to be right for what is top of mind to them at that moment in time. Focusing advertising around “what we know about someone” is flawed. For instance, what was of interest last week to me when I was looking to buy my son a new games console is now not remotely of interest today. I bought the game console and now I am all about the best place to get away for a ‘winter sun’ break, yet I am still served up adverts for the latest games and bundle offers.

Basing ads around key words can offer a bit more insight into what someone is interested in at that moment, but it can still create many pitfalls. Think of all the examples of “when advertising attacks”, where inappropriate ads are served up to ‘match’ an article – for example, a restaurant discount coupon alongside an article about a food poisoning outbreak.

This has led to online ‘ad blindness’. Consumers become increasingly disengaged (the number of consumers blocking ads completely is on the increase), advertisers see their engagement levels fall and publishers see revenues drop. There has to be a better way to provide an improved service to consumers, while still serving the needs of advertisers and publishers.

A new concept, specifically designed to address these limitations, is ambient ecommerce. Based on sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms, it is able to read and understand the meaning of content on a page. From this, the software can select relevant products from a retailer’s full catalogue to showcase alongside the content (not just a few hero products as with traditional advertising). When a user moves to a different website, ambient ecommerce technology will understand their current interests have changed and update the list of products showcased, keeping it relevant to the content on the new page.

For example, a user who has a sore back and is researching ways to help their back pain online. A traditional online advertising model is likely to serve up a variety of banner ads and sidebars which, at best, will be based on their recently viewed content – this could be anything from headphones to fridges or surfboards, none of which are top of mind at that particular moment. However, an ambient ecommerce platform will recognise what the user is interested in at that exact time, and serve up a range of relevant promotions, e.g. back support devices, back rubs, pain killers, or even exercise videos on how to strengthen back muscles to reduce the chances of future injury – even if the specific products are not mentioned in the text. If the user does not research back pain further (presumably because they have found what they need or are no longer suffering), they will no longer see advertising targeted at those with back troubles.

By understanding the context of editorial content, brands can be assured that only the right products are displayed to qualified and engaged consumers, increasing brand affinity and sales. Additionally, brands can monetise their entire product catalogue, even long tail items, rather than having to focus ads around a few hero products. The wins for publishers are also clear. They do not just benefit from an improved user experience, but also from complementary product promotions that enhance site stickiness.

Consumers are delighted because the product placements add extra value and actually complement and enhance what they are reading. This is evidenced by their increased engagement with the products displayed using ambiance ecommerce, which show up to 50 times the performance of conventional advertising. 

As if that was not enough, since ambient ecommerce is driven purely by published content, it does not depend on tracking personally identifiable information. Consumers have the peace of mind that their privacy is being protected and they are not being tracked as they browse online. No more unwanted ads for game consoles…