Contextual Advertising vs Audience Targeting

Contextually-targeted ads come out on top in a new study

For many advertisers, audience targeting is the gold standard – it’s why the inevitable death of the cookie has caused such an uproar. A recent study conducted by Annalect suggests that audience targeting actually comes second when compared to contextually-targeted advertising.



Where audience targeting matches adverts with an audience’s interests, contextual advertising matches ads with the context within which they appear. As the IAB defines it in their guide to contextual advertising, it’s “a form of advertising that chooses to serve an ad based on the content and environment that the ad will appear in, as opposed to the data on the user that the ad is being served to”.



To find the disparities between contextually-targeted advertising and audience targeting, 3,000 consumers from Germany, aged 18 to 59, were surveyed between May 25th and June 14th 2022.


To measure the effects of contextual advertising, Annalect created three fictional websites, each with their own themes – nutrition, sports, and gardening. The advertisements displayed on those sites directly correlated with the sites’ themes. Additionally, a contextually relevant video clip preceded the ad itself.


To measure audience targeting, Annalect grouped participants based on their interests, creating three interest groups – those interested in nutrition, sports, or gardening. They were then shown ads related to their interests on a generic, fictional news site.


Here’s what the study found.



The results from this study show participants responded far more positively to contextually-targeted ads.


View-through rates were 10% higher.

Ad recall, understanding, and recognition all showed better results.

Perception, specifically in terms of how the ad looks, interest in the product presented, and activation also saw significant upticks with contextually-targeted ads.

Download the complete contextual vs. target group study with all of the most important takeaways and data.