No one likes to have their words taken out of context. Yet there are a slew of popular sayings that suffer from chronic misuse for this very reason. Everyone knows that “love makes the world go ‘round,” right? This seemingly altruistic phrase actually comes from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” in which The Duchess—hardly a ‘likable’ character—delivers this line as a sarcastic quip shortly after mentioning that she beats her baby when he sneezes. Now, imagine a diaper ad being algorithmically placed adjacent to such an abhorrent disciplinary suggestion. Context matters.
The ease-and-efficiency approach has dominated digital marketing for many years now. However, there are signs that the days of writing a check and flipping some levers to spray ads on social platforms or across the web are coming to an end. The programmatic “black box” of opacity is becoming less obscured and the negative implications involved with hyper-targeted social ad-buys are moving into the spotlight.
Unfortunately, over time, the phrase “digital media” has morphed into a synonym for all digital advertising. You see it in the headlines crowing about the massive growth of the digital advertising market every time the IAB releases new figures. However, a closer look reveals that the vast majority of this spend goes to two companies that take great pains to point out that they are not media companies. In large part, their insistence on this distinction stems from a desire to distance themselves from the difficult, expensive and increasingly regulated aspects of the content business.
Indeed, while reputable media companies carefully manage their content quality and ad placements, many in the wider world of web content do not do so responsibly. This puts many “efficient” ad buys at risk of running in bad company.
Three Value Propositions
Every premium publisher that maintains a trusted relationship with consumers and advertisers should be well-versed in the value of context. To that end, here are three reasons markers should consider the context before spending their ad dollars:
1. Impressions by association
According to Dr. Horst Stipp, executive VP of research and innovation: global and ad effectiveness at The Advertising Research Foundation, “Context is likely to affect ad processing, recall, sales response and brand perceptions, both positively and negatively. Positive effects have been shown when ads are placed in a context that consumers are involved in, pay attention to and value, as well as when there is an alignment between the context and the ad message.”
And not only does context signal a brand’s quality and credibility, it also signals its relevancy, writes Keith Browning, group manager, global brand at LinkedIn.
On the other hand, research from Magna Global and software provider Cheq finds that many consumers view unsafe ad placements as endorsements of the potentially negative content they run alongside and assume that the ad placement was intentional. These negative placements impact consumer sentiment, causing a decline in their perception of a brand’s quality and making them less likely to refer the brand to others. This unpleasant placement also stifles consumers’ purchase intent. In other words, poor placement results in outcomes that are the opposite of marketers’ advertising objectives. The threat is especially great for emerging brands, because consumers particularly depend on media context to “evaluate unfamiliar advertised brands” more so than well-known products.
2. More than a “quick fix”
The cost of acquiring a new customer can amount to five-times that of retaining an existing customer. Increasing customer retention by 5% can increase profits anywhere from 25-95%. From the Consumer Lifetime Value (CLV) perspective, you don’t focus on reaching the largest amount of customers as inexpensively as possible. Instead, you think about how to optimize your acquisition spending for maximum value, rather than minimum cost.
Karen Nelson-Field, the founder and executive director of the Centre for Amplified Intelligence, advises advertisers to evaluate every single reach point “by its overall audience quality, its ability to be seen, its ability to attract attention, and its ability to deliver sales over time.”
Unfortunately, targeting has in large part supplanted quality as the measure of an audience worth reaching. Advertisers’ use of programmatic buying is often based on the assumption that targeting is vastly more impactful than context. Well, that depends on the metric. If you are tasked with getting clicks, then targeting is likely to deliver. If your goal is to build a long-term favorable relationship with consumers, then not so much. Arguably, premium publisher environments deliver better results across all aspects of the marketing funnel. However, these settings are particularly effective for mid-funnel goals such as favorability, consideration and intent to recommend.
And targeting is a trickier proposition than one might imagine. When we target, we make assumptions that fit a certain customer persona. But we all know that customers are more than the sum of their online behaviors. And, if you target individuals with no regard to context, you’re betting the campaign on the accuracy of your targeting assumptions. Using brand and environment as a proxy for interest allows you to reach a broader swath of potential customers.
3. Reach is not attention
Not all clicks are created equal. And a click is not the same thing as attention or engagement. It is highly likely, for example, that free content will get more clicks. Arguably, however, if a consumer values content highly enough to pay for it, they are not only going to have a higher estimation of that content, but also spend more time consuming it.
The reality is that purely data-driven digital marketing is best paralleled by direct-response marketing. We may desire to believe that stalking consumers after they’ve looked at a product to remind them that they need to complete their purchase demonstrates digital acumen. Unfortunately, what it truly signals is that the ad is annoying, intrusive and often incorrect (given how often consumers look at products they don’t intend to buy or are followed by products they’ve already purchased). People know where the quality brands advertise, and they recognize less-reputable ones by their behavior and the company they keep.
But there’s more to this than intuition. High correlations between attention to content and advertisement recall have been shown in many studies. For example, people who read for 15 or more seconds are 25% likelier to recall a brand than those who read for 10 or fewer seconds. Thus, consumers who are engaged in the content they are consuming are more likely to recall the ads placed alongside that content. Marketers should consider the media context in which their ads appear when ensuring their messages are remembered, drive brand recognition and recall and launch new products, according to a study by the Journal of Advertising Research.
Most premium publishers already sensed, if they didn’t unequivocally know, these three value propositions. But the time is right to communicate this message to marketers. Brand safety was a significant theme of this year’s NewFronts, and some foresee a big swing towards marketers adopting a more prescriptive approach to targeting, identifying the right contexts first, and then exploring how to reach relevant audiences at scale within those contexts. In fact, 45% of marketers define brand safety as delivering ads only on premium publisher sites, and 85% say they are planning to scale contextual targeting.
One thing publishers can (and do) offer marketers is transparency, clarity and simplicity in the often murky digital advertising supply chain. It’s time to brag about it.