It'll mean that content that was previously less relevant to advertisers will be increasingly more attractive to advertisers looking to connect with hard-to-reach audiences — especially niche audiences (the long tail). Therefore, it opens up possibilities for content that didn't previously generate revenue to start generating revenue.
I take your point – but if your warning is for the future effect of contextual advertising on editorial, then I think you'll find there will soon be big changes from what NZ has now. Rather than the audience-size-determined contextualisation you speak of, ads — even fancy ones designed by agencies — will be delivered according to behavioral targeting, where campaign managers will track how users interact with ads and adjust their strategies accordingly on a second-by-second basis. That could mean changing the creative, changing where the ad is placed, or changing how frequently it is placed. The end-goal in this instance is click-throughs, but that's not a factor determined by audience size so much as relevance to the audience. That relevance is enhanced by better targeting through sophisticated tracking, cookies, and what not. So, it'll still be a case of advertising chasing the content, rather than the other way round.
Thus, the sweet power of automated contextualisation wins again.
(Sorry about my shoddy prose before and my attempt to link — only now do I see the note that HTML is not supported. Woops.)
Having delved even deeper into the underbelly of the nefarious marketing journalism, and worked for magazines that have tailored some content to suit advertisers, I must say that my view of the role of contextual advertising is somewhat sunnier.
For a start, ads delivered by the likes of Google AdSense and Yahoo's Panama — as well as the by-hand delivery of ads according to sections — fit the advertising to the content, rather than the other way round. This has numerous benefits.
From the marketer's perspective, he can target intelligently his desired audience without so much waste, thereby getting better return on investment and improving his brand reputation (because he avoids generating resentment from people who aren't at all interested in the brand — because they have a lower chance of seeing the ad). Now, I know we often pretend we don't care about marketers, but actually, this is a good thing. Advertisers are the reason journalists get paid — and to have happy advertisers means the likelihood of that payslip arriving in the mail next month is much improved.
More importantly, contextual advertising benefits publishers — especially niche publishers, such as Public Address. The high targetability (made-up word) of such ads means even sites with audiences at the far end of the long-tail can have an attractive advertising proposition. And it's a tremendous strength of digital technologies — perhaps a saving grace for media organisations suffering from the fragmentation of channels and the turning away from expensive print — that they can offer advertisers very defined tracking, updating, and results. Ultimately, this should result in improved revenues for publishers with strong digital offerings, which should in turn bolster the strength of their products — which is good for consumers.
Which brings me to the most important thing: us. If I must be fed advertising — and for those of us who don't block ads on our browsers — then I'd much prefer to be fed ads that might have some relevance to my life. And if that means a complex set of equations is sorting through my search history? So what? That's the point of search — to return relevant information on a request. Yeah, I know I'm putting a lot of trust in companies that have stuffed this up before, but I'm hoping they've all learned some lessons from past mistakes.
So, I don't think contextual advertising will have a negative effect. In fact, most advertising is contextual — it's just the automated contextualisation you're worried about. But what Google and Yahoo's tools are doing is making the ads find the content, and not the other way around.
I like that.