Contextual advertising in online communication: An investigation of relationships between multiple content types on a webpage

Waechter, Susanne Franziska
Frommherz, Gudrun
Johnson, Rosser
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

As part of the promotional mix, advertising plays a significant role in a company’s or organisation’s communication with its consumers and stakeholders. In order to inform consumers about their products or services, marketers apply a variety of advertising strategies. One particular strategy is “contextual advertising”, which refers to the strategic placement of advertisements in an editorial environment whose theme is relevant for the promoted product or service (Belch & Belch, 2009, p. 492). Also in advertising research, contextual advertising received a considerable amount of attention. Scholars have investigated the effectiveness of contextual advertising in online and offline media. Researchers as well as practitioners have particularly focused on content-based relationships between advertisements and the theme of the editorial environment in which the advertisement is placed. With a focus on online media, the present study aimed to investigate this content-based relationship but also to examine what other types of relationships between the different contents on a webpage the user constructs. Advertising has also been investigated in the area of semiotics. Several scholars analysed advertisements in order to reveal their meaning-affordances. A second interest in the present study derives from semiotic studies and theories, which emphasise the individual’s significance in the meaning-making process but also exclude the individual from their analysis. A potential contradiction could be seen here and by investigating how users interpret a particular webpage, this study aimed to examine what insights an analysis can provide that is solely focused on the webpage user. In order to capture users’ interpretations of a webpage’s contents and to investigate what types of relationships between these contents users construct semi-structured interviews with six participants were conducted. The participants were invited to look at a webpage from the website Following the interviews, the participants’ responses were transcribed, categorised and analysed. Findings from the study revealed that several participants constructed relationships between advertisements and the editorial content based on content-similarity but also on design-similarity as well as their personal knowledge about sponsorship relationships and income-investment relationships. Personal knowledge also appeared to be important for the interpretation of the webpage. The participants’ interpretation of the webpage were also guided by their personal interest in the contents, their individual contexts like socio-cultural background, experiences and beliefs as well as environmental factors such as time and the layout of the interview location. The results of the study support the significant role of the individual in the process of meaning making and further contribute to an extended understanding of contextual advertising. Practical suggestions for the advertising area and future research were also identified.

Online communication , Online advertising , Contextual advertising , Perception
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