McLuhan Was 20% Right
If content is king, then context is the power that lies behind the throne.
Conventionally, when we speak of context in media terms, we are typically -- and understandably -- referring to the programming environment in which an ad appears -- the media context, if you will.
Turner has illustrated the importance of this through its InContext ad sales initiative. It has had some rigorous research applied to it that illustrates that some pretty powerful uplifts in key metrics can occur when ads are placed within the right media context.
But while this is undoubtedly a critical part of the contextual mix, given the audience delivered and the tonality of the programming that sets a mood, it’s not the whole picture.
As media has become so much more multifaceted, there are situational factors to bear in mind, which were less important in the days before interactivity, mobility and the fragmentation of media platforms.
Now context is about more than the medium. Marshall McLuhan wasn’t wrong when he declared the medium to be the message -- but he was only 20% right as far as today’s communications landscape is concerned.
Why 20%? Because in these modern media times, when a consumer-centric perspective is no longer a luxury or a throwaway remark in a conference speech but a critical part of a brands communications DNA, there are five dominant dimensions to context that need to be understood and planned for:
- The Media: above and beyond audience delivery, the characteristics and capabilities of the media used by consumers impacts the kind of communications that will work best. It also defines their expectations of the medium and their relationship with it. TV, for example, is very different than mobile.
- Location: where people are when they encounter brand messages impacts their attention levels, their ability and willingness to engage and their ability to respond. Think workplace vs. home vs sports bar or car.
- Social Setting: who people are with can be critical to the impact of a message -- co-viewing/listening with the person who takes part in purchase decisions vs. with friends or co-workers –- as well as the level of attention a message may receive. When people are socializing, do they pay as much attention as when at home watching TV? Maybe, maybe not -- but they may be socializing near the point of purchase, such as at a bar.
- Activity: what someone is doing when a medium delivers a message goes straight to relevance. Whether preparing food, heading to a restaurant, shopping or working, all these things provide a situational relevance to brands that can enhance the resonance of the message.
- Mood and Emotion: emotional states that prevail at different times of the day or in different situations also go to receptivity. The same brand can take different creative approaches to resonate with emotional states.
To my mind, it’s the campaign that
takes equal account of all these dimensions of context that are “the message” in today's world.
There is, of course, an additional dimension to the context of brand communications: the way in which the brand and its competitive set are perceived by the target audiences. That’s something most readily controlled by brand owners and their agencies of record.
As for the dimensions listed above, these are the elements of how people lead their daily lives and where media fits in. We have no chance of controlling that -- only of understanding it and planning our actions accordingly.