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Clear Channel offers contextual advertising for radio, but where's the context?

Clear Channe;Clear Channel has announced what the commercial radio giant calls a major step forward for radio advertising: technology that can “automatically and reliably insert any length of audio spot immediately after specific programming or commercial spots based entirely on content.” In blogoland that’s called “contextual,” or sometimes “semantic” advertising. Google Adsense and various Amazon widgets, which we use here at Radio Survivor, can scan the rest of our site and come up with relevant advertising content, based on what we’ve written.

This has its down sides. If you regularly read our site, you may have noted Google ads for the Survivor TV series on more than one occasion. Beyond the fact that that program uses the same title that we do, there’s not much similarity in context. But CA is generally regarded as a boon to the commercialized wing of the Internet. And CC is calling its innovation a big breakthough.

“We just leveled a very lucrative playing field,” declared Clear Channel CEO John Hogan. “This system took months to perfect, Clear Channel Radio is the only one who has it.”

The question is, in the Age of Clear Channel style terrestrial radio, where’s the context? I mean, we’re talking about radio stations that, with some notable exceptions, offer little variety in talk or music. Clear Channel’s press release gives some examples of how this contextual radio thing has already worked. Here’s number one:

“To support Wal-Mart’s exclusive retail sales contract for AC/DC’s highly anticipated Black Ice album last Fall, MediaVest and Clear Channel Radio devised a program where a Wal-Mart ad for the album would run immediately after an AC/DC song was played on a selection of 106 Rock AC and Album-Oriented Rock stations in 91 markets. If no AC/DC song was currently on the station’s playlist, the 30-second spot appeared after a song by a similar artist.”

Ok, but what’s not similar to AC/DC on a Clear Channel Adult Contemporary or Album-Oriented rock station? So basically the contextual ad will run when it hears “It’s a long way to the top,” or it will probably run to almost anything else on the schedule. That’s context? Here’s example number two:

“Horizon Media’s contextual campaign for GEICO played strongly on the company’s “save 15%” theme in three ways. First, the campaign dynamically placed custom 15-second ads for the insurer after ads from vehicle makers (including autos, motorcycles, RVs and others) and auto dealers. Second, the ads were run at :15 past the hour during each hour of the coveted morning drive (6:15am, 7:15am, 8:15am, 9:15am). And third, the contextual reference carried through in the creative, reminding listeners that “since it’s now 15 after the hour, there’s no better time than now to spend the next 15 minutes saving 15% with GEICO”. For added impact, Clear Channel stations aired a paid 60-second GEICO commercial after the custom :15.”

So the context here is not station program content, but other ads. Sorry, but that’s just a little different from blogs, where the context is user generated content, often varied and unpredictable. Still, if this new technology gets tapped by radio stations that really provide a diverse range of music and talk, it could be a boon for them. Here’s hoping that happens soon.

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