To be effective, digital ads must work in context

The best performing digital content is tailored to its environment. Testing in context can help you identify the impact of context on advertising performance.
07 June 2022
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EVP Global Thought Leadership, Kantar

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Context is important. If you don’t believe me, try this little thought experiment.

The Mona Lisa is considered priceless. Thousands flock to see it in the Louvre in Paris every day, mostly ignoring the other artwork on display in the same room. But what if we put the real Mona Lisa on sale at the dollar store or Poundland, and priced it accordingly? Would most people give it a second glance, or would they ignore it? Evidence from past research into the importance of context suggests the latter.

Advertising must stand out to be effective

To make sure your advertising gets a second glance it needs to work hard to get attention, whatever the context. Because if an ad fails to gain attention, there is no chance that it will have any effect. And whether content will gain attention and resonate with an audience depends on where it is placed.

Different digital contexts demand different content

Think about all the ad-supported platforms or websites you might use in an ad campaign. The type of content, how it is presented, and, perhaps most important, the user’s mindset, intent, and their way of interacting with the content all differ from one platform to the next. Scrolling through a newsfeed is very different from trying to watch a specific video, noodling through stories, or following hashtags for news or entertainment.

Therefore, different digital contexts demand different content tailored to the specific platform. Discussing the importance of tailoring content across media in a Future Proof podcast, Huw Griffiths from UM Worldwide, states: “We’ve seen time and time again that the most impactful way to work is to embrace the uniqueness of a platform and do something that is truly customized.” The problem is that only 49% of advertisers are confident about how they are tailoring creative executions to their context, and some may be unaware that they even need to do so. We also know that content that is well integrated (recognizably part of the same campaign) and customized (appropriate for the platform or format) boosts brand effectiveness by 57%.

Testing advertising in context can maximize success

The solution to uncertainty and lack of knowledge is to test and learn. Increasing investments in digital make this even more important. All too often, clients seem to believe that creating lots of content will allow them to identify the effective ones in-market, but that risks identifying the best of a bad bunch. Instead, solutions like Context Lab on Kantar Marketplace allow you to quickly and cost-effectively test content in different contexts before or during a campaign, with a goal of identifying which advertising assets will work best in different environments.

Advertising in hyper-targeted contexts doesn’t mean you can’t test

One of the beauties of digital marketing is the ability to reach narrow segments and targeted audiences. There are many local and specialist environments and platforms where a brand might want to advertise, for example gaming, news, technology, and sports websites, each with its own contextual impact on your advertising. You could test your video ads on YouTube and hope they work the same way on local, culturally specific platforms, or, better, you could simply test whether they work well. Historically, in-context testing has focused on the most mainstream platforms and formats, and Context Lab does too, but using Context Lab you can now also build custom contexts as well. Whether the ad is on Le Monde, Line in Japan, or Twitch, it is better to know how well your content works in advance and adapt it to the specific context.

It is not a true test if you do not test

Whether it is new platforms or ad formats, the options for digital advertising seem to increase daily. And it is important to test new formats to see if they offer a potential advantage over existing ones. But just spending money to try out a new format is not really a test. Behavioral stats like views and clicks give some indication of attention, but they do not measure branding, message delivery or attitudinal shifts, and provide no strategic guidance on how to improve effectiveness. It's far better to test the new format and benchmark it against a known alternative using metrics which align with your brand objectives.

Take the example of a brand that wanted to understand whether they could use influencers to help launch a new product. Testing alternatives showed that while influencers generated more engagement with the target audience, it did not translate to brand impact. In the context of the new brand launch, branded content on the Instagram feed delivered most of the impact on the main 3 KPIs: awareness, associations, and purchase intent. As a result, the client decided to lead with the branded content and then use the influencers to add depth to the campaign.

Testing can help you tailor your content to its context

Context matters, for advertising and many other things in life. So when you plan a new digital campaign, it is important to adapt your advertising to the context in which it will appear. Testing gives you useful feedback on what will work where, and how the content might be improved to work better in that context. And testing need not take time or be limited to the obvious contexts. If you would like to learn more about how Context Lab on Marketplace can help you improve your digital ad effectiveness, please get in touch.

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