Contextual targeting uses ads that are directly related to the website that the individual is on at that time. For example, if you are on a women’s health magazine and you see a Peloton banner ad, it is most likely following the contextual method. This method is more centered around the content and the websites that it will appear.
For Behavioral, data is gathered from previously visited sites keyword searches. For this example, we are going to stick with the peloton example. If you see a Peloton ad on a completely unrelated website, but you had previously searched it, that is behaviorally based. This method uses more data from cookies and focuses on the user rather than contextual.
Now that we have an understanding of the differences, how do you decide on which one to use? The argument could be made that contextual targeting is better because it does not require as much data tracking as behavioral, but since there is limited personal information extracted by those cookies, it is not as problematic as it may appear. An argument for Behavioral can be said because of their focus on the user while on contextual is primarily focused on content.
There is no correct or definitive answer to which one to use; the arguments on both sides have valid points. Some have said that it is useful to use both methods to obtain better results. No matter which targeting method you use, it is important to remember that with this mass amount of information laws and legislation are attempting to catch up and could change the landscape of Adtech at any time.