How Comfortable Are Users Clicking a Behavioral v.s. Contextual Ad?

Let's talk about the difference between behavioral & contextual ads and go over a groundbreaking study that revealed how comfortable people feel when clicking certain advertisements. 
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How comfortable are you clicking on online ads? Let’s discuss.

This article explains the discourse around ads and data privacy. We’ll talk about the difference between behavioral & contextual ads and go over a groundbreaking study that revealed how comfortable people feel when clicking certain advertisements. 

This is kinda important…

If you are a brand, agency, or anyone looking to utilize digital marketing for your business, it’s important to know exactly what ads people come into contact with and why they are more/less likely to be clicked on.

Below are some important key terms and concepts that will help you better understand the issues with today’s advertising landscape.

Ad Fatigue - A phenomenon that occurs when users see too many ads. When your audience sees your ads too much, they tend to lose interest and ultimately ignore them.

Brand Safety - An important concept that every business should prioritize. As an advertiser, you want to make sure that your ads are being placed on relevant and safe sites. Brand safety means your messaging won’t be associated with harmful content that may make you lose your credibility and/or potential customers.

Behavioral Ads - Advertisements delivered to users based on their past online behavior. These ads are usually targeted by using 3rd party data or cookies, tracking a user’s browser history, search queries, social media activity, and other online actions. The purpose behind behavioral ads is to deliver ads to users that will interest them, based on their digital history.


Contextual Ads - Advertisements delivered to users based on the content they are currently viewing. These ads don’t need to create an invasive user profile to deliver relevant ads. Instead, contextual advertisements use data about the site the user is viewing in real-time and deliver ads that reflect that content.

PII (Personally Identifiable Information) - Information that can be used to identify a specific individual. This includes, but is not limited to, names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers, financial information, and other data that can be linked to a particular person.

That’s Sus…

A study was done to assess users’ comfort level with both behavioral and contextual ads. Can you guess which one they were more comfortable with? If you guessed contextual, you’re correct.

Stating the obvious, the main reason consumers feel more comfortable with contextual ads is because they are more concerned about their privacy these days. According to the study, “79% of Consumers Are [More] Comfortable Seeing Contextual Than Behavioral Ads.” In fact, most users reported feeling “creeped out” and “violated” when coming across behavioral ads online.

And can you blame them? Seeing behavioral ads is almost like that feeling you get when you feel like someone is watching you…

A Little More Context, Please.

So what makes contextual ads so special? Contextual ads don’t track and extract a user’s PII from site to site. Instead, contextual ads take data from the website they are using to deliver personalized ads. 

Need an example? Let’s say you want to bake a cake, so you find a recipe you like online. This is where the contextual data comes in. Advertising technologies can analyze the content of the site you’re on. Seeing as you are looking at a cake recipe, they might offer you ads for holiday cake-baking sets or a subscription to a cooking magazine. 

Now, if the advertisers were using behavioral ads, you would see ads for that car you looked up last week or tickets to an event near you.

Contextual ads are less invasive and more relevant to what a user is looking at in real-time. Therefore, it makes sense why a consumer would rather click one of those ads. The ads appear more safe, more relevant, and more credible. 


From WowYow’s point of view, we believe that contextual ads are more effective AND will be essential as companies like Google and Apple start implementing more restrictive privacy policies on 3rd-party cookies.

We’re proud to have always been a cookie-free advertising solution, having utilized contextual metadata since the rise of our company. As a growing tech leader, we see a storm coming as privacy legislation starts cracking down on 3rd-party data solutions. Advertisers must start seeking new solutions that use 1st-party data or contextual metadata. Otherwise, the aftermath of the cookie apocalypse will leave businesses struggling in its wake. 

If you’re interested, we do offer a great Contextual DSP that is beneficial for both small brands and large agencies. Our DSP is a platform that is a part of our Contextual Exchange, which connects advertisers to publishers. The Contextual DSP provides many affordable tools for advertisers, including campaign management, customizable targeting parameters, premium ad placement, standard and unique (interactive) ad formats, AI-generated creatives, and much more!

You can learn more about our Contextual DSP here. Feel free to sign up for a demo or reach out to an expert!

If there’s anything you should take away from this article, it’s that behavioral ads are creepy. All jokes aside, contextual ads are going to be your best bet going forward, so prepare your contextual solutions to kick off 2024 right!