In-context ad testing unleashes the true power of your creative

If content is King, then context is Queen. Marketers who don’t test their advertising in context risk undermining the potency of their content.
28 October 2021
Waldemar Barylo

Digital Development Director

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When Bill Gates coined the phrase ‘Content is King’ in 1996, the digital marketing revolution was only just sharpening its pitchfork. In the last 25 years, people have increasingly moved online, and marketers have followed.

And while it might be easy to assume that digital advertising penetration has reached equilibrium, this year’s Media Reactions study reveals otherwise. In fact, this trend will only continue to accelerate, with 79% of global marketers reporting that they intend to increase their online video spend further in 2022. Given such high levels of spending, the study illuminates something incredibly important about advertising on digital media: different channels are perceived to have different personalities – and this affects how consumers perceive the content on them.

TikTok was crowned as the media environment with the highest global ad equity this year, since consumers have the most overall positive attitudes towards it. The platform is described as having a Joker personality type, meaning it is a fun and playful environment. Instagram on the other hand is seen by consumers as desirable and sophisticated, with the personality type of an Enchanter. And Facebook, as a Networker personality type, projects a warm and friendly persona in the minds of most consumers.

These personality types are indicative of consumer expectations about the sort of content they anticipate seeing on each channel. To be effective in a specific context, your ad must meet consumer expectations of how content should behave in that environment. For example, an ad that could be considered quite entertaining on another platform might be perceived as relatively dull on TikTok; given the humour that the platform has become known for. Bottom line: if the voice and messaging of your content is not aligned with the tone of the environment it appears in, then it may feel jarringly out of place – which could easily make your brand appear tone-deaf and inauthentic.

Managing a global media empire

The situation is made more complex because perceptions of platform personality can vary quite widely from country to country. For example, while Twitter is considered to be sage, knowledgeable and wise in the US, Germany and the Netherlands; consumers in Argentina, Australia or Spain view the platform as a Rebel.

Simply assuming your global campaign content will perform similarly in the same context across a multi-country campaign could well lead to embarrassment. Without understanding performance in context and tailoring your material to a local audience, you could find yourself in an Emperor’s new clothes scenario.

Considering context can earn you a king’s ransom

It’s not all bad news though. While getting context wrong can limit your success, getting it right can have a huge positive impact on the delivery of your objectives.

When we used Context Lab to test this Mint Mobile ad, which features Ryan Reynolds, the results for the same ad in different platforms varied hugely. Simply seeing the ad on TikTok meant a 22% increase in consumers taking away the intended message of the ad. Without any changes to the creative, the brand could choose to invest their digital media budget for this ad in one platform rather than another and expect to increase the intended message association by more than a fifth!

We can speculate on what has driven this, but it seems likely that an alignment between the fun jokey celebrity personality and the fun and entertaining platform personality is amplifying the impact of the creative. In cases where the alignment may not be so obvious, in-context testing becomes even more important to allow you to take the guesswork out of placement decisions.

Testing in context is less common than it should be

Unsurprisingly, an overall trend is emerging with marketers increasingly realising the importance of in-context testing. Marketers’ confidence in tailoring content across context is also growing, up from 49% in 2020 to 65% this year. However, as more and more investment is diverted into digital advertising, this still leaves a third of advertisers with a huge blind spot that could be helped by context testing.

The reasons for not testing context are well rehearsed: stretched budgets and time pressures. This is of course magnified by the fast-moving, multiple-executions, last-minute-optimisation and dynamic nature of digital advertising.

The agile revolution: find out what’s not working, and fix it fast

However, the growth of agile, automated context testing solutions is breaking down these barriers. For example, Context Lab on Kantar Marketplace enables single ads and multiple executions to be tested quickly and easily, in the context of TikTok, YouTube, YouKu, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – in as few as 24 hours. Agile testing tools like these enable marketers to be strategic, but also flexible and fleet of foot in response to the insights delivered.

The learnings can be used to inform the media strategy, allowing buyers to upweight spend on platforms that match the brand’s personality and messaging. If consumers find advertising intrusive or repetitive, the media plan can be tweaked accordingly. Where an ad doesn’t work, its weaknesses can be quickly identified and addressed.

Digital media consumption will continue to explode, as will investment in digital channels. To maximise engagement across all platforms, marketers must understand what consumers expect from different online environments, and how this evolves, and tailor the creative to match. The stakes are high – and they’ll only get higher.

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