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Three Examples of Contextual Advertising Done Right

03/19/2014 03:41 EDT | Updated 05/19/2014 05:59 EDT

The Sochi Olympics, like other popular television viewing events (read: Oscars, Super Bowl) reinforced the importance and potential effectiveness of contextually relevant ads. Think of the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion spot that went viral, or Proctor & Gamble's Thank You Mom commercial.

The relationship between current events and advertising is nothing new. In fact, it's probably older than you might think. Seagrams, for example, tailored their advertising to convey the message of drinking in moderation during the prohibition era -- a clever alternative to the extremes of statist prohibition that took place in the United States.

What is novel, however, is how quickly and dynamically digital advertising can react to timely events, and how effective (or terrible) it can be. We have a much greater ability to release contextually relevant ads quickly using a variety of platforms. Here are a few examples of companies who have leveraged popular viewing events to produce timely, effective marketing messages.

1. The Company: Oreo

The Platform: Twitter

What they did: Oreo used Twitter to position its brand in relation to the Super Bowl power outage in 2013, taking the opportunity to release an ad with the tagline "You can still dunk in the dark."

Why it worked: By putting it out in real time (the ad was posted on twitter at 8:48pm, during the blackout) Oreo was able to release an ad that not only made an impact, but also did so for much less than the exorbitant prices usually associated with Super Bowl advertising. Simple but very effective. It was a smart and funny move that showed Oreo as having it's finger on the pulse of people everywhere by finding a way to link their brand to the awareness of the moment.

2. The Company: WestJet

The Platform: YouTube

What they did: In a great demonstration of how context-based advertising can make a tremendous impact, WestJet released an elaborate marketing video online just prior to Christmas. Unsuspecting fliers spoke into a video terminal about what they wanted for Christmas, and they arrived at their destination to find the items they had asked for were there waiting for them.

Why it worked: This ad was released solely online and went viral in a single day. WestJet used the biggest holiday of the year to leverage seasonal sentiment and show -- in action -- the invested employees that are their brand. In the process they created something fresh and unique, despite the fact that everybody -- from mom and pop shops to multinational corporations -- makes at least some effort to release Holiday-themed ads.

3. The Company:The Sports Den

The Platform: Google Pay-per-click

What they did: During the Sochi Olympics, The Sports Den was aiming to increase sales of their Team Canada Jerseys via search engine advertising. The problem? So was everybody else.

Pay-Per-Click allows you to change the ads you run quickly and easily, and The Sports Den took full advantage of this. Their original ad, which read "Team Canada Jerseys", wasn't performing poorly, but had room for improvement. So they changed it up with every game. When Canada was gearing up to play the United States, the ad read "Screw the US". Prior to the gold medal game against Sweden, the copy read "Sweden's Got Nothing". These ads showed an improvement in click-through rates from 2.61% to 7.78% and 5.75%, respectively.

Why it worked: The Sports Den's ads were compelling, interesting, and about as timely as you can get. While all of their competitors were releasing ads that read "Team Canada Jerseys" or "Team Canada Sochi Jerseys" (every single ad used one of these two variations), they found a way to be unique, position themselves differently and ultimately stand out.

While context and timeliness has always played a big role in advertising and marketing, digital marketing allows us to leverage events as they happen, across a variety of relatively new platforms. It really is real-time advertising. Quick, well-placed messages over social media, clever videos made for release online, PPC ads that change based on the events of the day - these are only a few of the possibilities. Today, it's about being dynamic and adaptive, and by combining creativity with timeliness, companies are seeing a much higher return from their marketing efforts and viewers (consumers) are enjoying the supplementary show.

Jeff Quipp is an expert on digital marketing. He is the founder and CEO of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP), Canada's largest digital marketing firm, which has been on the PROFIT 100 ranking of Canada's Fastest Growing Companies for the past five consecutive years and named one of PROFIT Magazine's 50 Fastest Growing Companies in the Greater Toronto Area. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jquipp or connect with him on Google+.