Television & Search – Contextualizing Out of Context

With the promise of greater interactivity and content capacity, a few television networks have begun to pull from the online marketing playbook.

Comcast recently acquired social networking site Plaxo, with the intent of allowing family and friends to share programming in a viral way and through various media devices.

Meanwhile, Turner Entertainment Networks has announced it will be indexing content within television shows in order to serve contextually relevant ads during commercial breaks. If you’re familiar with Google AdWords, then you understand this is exactly how contextual targeting works when serving text ads within Google’s content network.

While it depends on the client, it can be quite difficult to achieve the same metrics and success in Google’s content network when compared to Google Search and the search network. Clearly, users within the content network may be in the earliest stage of the consumer purchasing decision process; however, serving ads on relevant content pages is the primary concern.

While I commend Turner Entertainment on attempting to apply search relevancy to television advertising, all I can think of is the potential for inappropriate contextual matches based on such an automated system. Michael Boland, Senior Analyst with The Kelsey Group provides a great example:

Seeing an ad for United Airlines after the crash scene(s) in “Lost” probably isn’t what you want.

Furthermore, Boland points out that:

Albeit, low volume/high margin television advertising makes this easier to police than the billions of long tail contextual ads served online. But for the same reason, when a mistake is made, a whole lot more people get to see it.

Probing even deeper, the use of a Staples paper shredder by the character Kevin in an episode of The Office is not enough justification for serving a 30 second Staples spot. Watching The Office does not say anything about my interest in Staples office supplies or office supplies in general. If anything, watching The Office says something about my interest in comedy or Steve Carell.

While it may be a step in the right direction, television networks need to start thinking outside of the 30 second commercial spot before they get contextual targeting right.