Context is critical

Advertisers are realising anew that where their ad appears is just as important as what the ad says.
07 October 2020
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EVP Global Thought Leadership, Kantar

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Before the advent of programmatic buying, advertisers and media planners used to consider media context an important, or even vital asset to any advertising campaign. Launching a travel campaign? You placed ads in travel programmes on TV, or in the travel section of the newspaper, or in a specialist travel magazine. Of course it wasn’t always quite as simple as that – you had to look at budget, mindset and targeting considerations too: so maybe the right answer was a more tailored ad in a health magazine, an adventure programme, or in a cinema ad that ran before a movie set in Thailand.

Whatever the right answer for the brief, context was at least a consideration. But was the placement appropriate, was it relevant, did the creative work in that context, and was there something smart about the placement that consumers would understand and remember?

Ever since targeted digital media has become a more automated process, the industry has taken its eye off the context ball. The relentless focus on chasing the target audience wherever they are, through sometimes murky and opaque digital advertising ecosystems, means that advertisers don’t always even know where their ads are appearing.

Recently, the notion of brand safety and brand-appropriate placements have come to the fore because of misjudgements, or even ignorance. Many advertisers shied away from COVID-19 content at all costs, without thinking about the relevance or purpose of some of their messaging. However, simply being in the wrong type of publication or context can have a negative brand impact, destroying all the purpose-driven work that the brand is doing, and harm reputation.

Advertisers are realising anew that where their ad appears is just as important as what the ad says. Based on our Media Reactions 2020 survey of global marketers, we know that appropriateness for campaign objectives is now the primary factor determining media budget decisions. However, in an era of influencers and branded content, as well as more regular formats of digital advertising, you need a way to test multiple variants quickly so you know what’s going to work, and what’s not. You also need a way to test before, in the early stages or during a campaign, depending on client preference, and regardless of how last-minute the campaign is!

We know from a large Context Lab study conducted for a high-profile brand in LATAM that tailoring creative to the context is vital across many different aspects of ad effectiveness. With creative tailored to context, ads are viewed for longer, more of the views are completed, and there’s an impressive uplift in message association.


In another example, a leading gaming provider in the UK wanted to target younger consumers across various social platforms to increase consideration. There was a clear winner across all the relevant metrics among the platforms, particularly among those who game 11+ hours per week. The client used the findings to maximise effectiveness of the campaign in-flight, and to inform future strategy.

Digital platforms are not a homogeneous bunch. Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok each present themselves differently, the consumer experience varies, and ad formats are evolving rapidly. We know that creative that is tailored to each platform performs better, and that marketers need to understand this quickly. Testing ads and content on their own doesn’t give full credit to the environment or format they are in.

Marketers now need to understand the performance of many different formats: from ‘traditional’ digital ad formats, of multiple targeted creative versions, through to influencer and native branded content. An early read of each element of the campaign in each context means that marketers can select the creative and the contexts that have the greatest positive brand impact and reject those that perform less well.

All marketers are dealing with ever-increasing complexity, so they need flexibility in testing to optimise placements and use their budgets efficiently. They may want to test multiple or single ads to find the right combinations of media placement and creative to maximise brand impact. And depending on circumstances, they may want to test pre-, during or even post-campaign.

We are delighted to announce that Context Lab is now launching on Kantar Marketplace, providing results within 72 hours, so you can be confident your content will have maximum brand impact across different digital contexts. Find out more on Kantar Marketplace.

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