Pushing products and services to the masses, “seeing what sticks,” and flooding the customer’s world with generic advertising were default (if not strategic) practices in a pre-digital era when marketers were limited in their ability to truly contextualize communications. But a progressive breed of shrewd marketers are poised to win big in 2012, replacing clutter with context through in-text keyword advertising and more meaningfully fulfilling their roles in the B2C quid-pro-quo relationship.

In our series of 2012 prediction posts looking at the convergence of on- and offline worlds and the resulting impact on business communications, we’ve explored how “context” is emerging as the next great communications strategy. Customers don’t care whether their needs are met through retail or e-tail, or augmented reality applications…they just want their needs met. This consumer reality is also being acknowledged through online advertising techniques, such as in-text ads and social media ads, where readers receive such targeted content it’s almost personal.

In-text keyword ads allow users to click within a pop-up ad to read a brand’s Twitter messages or Facebook posts in real time, or to watch a brand’s YouTube video content, all without leaving the Web page they started at. You may have encountered such an ad – manifesting as a double-underlined word within a piece of editorial – without realizing it. Users who scroll over the keywords trigger a pop-up box, and it’s at this point that the finesse of in-text advertising becomes evident – only compelled readers link through and consent to the full-text ad/website/social channel, and the rest keep reading.

Whereas in-text gradually pulls a customer into the message, social media ads like those sold by Facebook push a message to what can be an extremely qualified, discrete audience. People openly list their demographic information, jobs, residence, and interests within their profiles, all which can be used by brands to narrow their ad placement strategy. An example of an advertising option on Facebook is the “Likes & Interests” targeting option. With this, businesses can display an ad, for example, in front of individuals that have “Liked” a competitor’s page or an event you’re planning to attend.

Airfoil and many of our clients will have a presence at CES next week, and contextual advertising has the potential to draw a strategic readership into social channels where we discuss the event or simply build brand awareness with companies that have “Liked” the event, and with whom we may want to connect on site.

Given the heightened degree to which today’s advertisers are held accountable for ROI, in-text and social media advertising can be effective not only strategically, but economically, too. Contrasting with display ads that are sold based upon how many people will see, not actively consume, them, these forms of online ads charge the advertiser per click. The consumer is not the only party that benefits from a more relevant brand interaction but the brands themselves that spend their money more wisely – on either highly motivated or qualified consumers – in a contextualized model. 

Even as social and digital platforms have evolved to enable marketers to be more precise in their outreach, less sophisticated brands are still talking at – not with – customers whenever, wherever.

But brands that embrace new ways like in-text and social media ads to right size the amount, frequency and type of information they provide consumers an experience that is a more intuitive, natural exchange of information that mimics an in-person interaction. And the line between digital and actual further blurs…

How do you feel about 2012 being the year where “the line” completely vanishes? Are you ready for it? We’d love to know…please share!