Context Matters

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 24, 2010

I've got visions of drumsticks and footballs dancing in my head, so this month a fairly brief contribution...

Back in 1997, when it was my turn to be President/CEO of Simmons, we used to do research on the concept of magazine affinity: the notion that the same ad can have a differential effect on the same consumer depending on the magazine in which the ad was run. Media companies spend millions of dollars on the experience that consumers have with their brands, and media vehicles absolutely have brand equity. Think for a moment about the media category of national newspapers in the US.  It's basically a three-brand category: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.  Each is different and unique; each provides a different experience for the reader.  And each provides a different environment for ads.

Now, consider for a moment the magazine business. Let's take an extreme example. Say you're an automotive marketer, and you want to reach adult males 25-54 who own a luxury vehicle. You have a piece of print creative that tests well.  Now, do you want to select the specific magazines in which that ad appears?  If I told you that I could guarantee you the desired reach among your target reader, would you care whether that ad ran in Car & Driver, or Sports Illustrated, or a Superman comic, or Hustler?

I think most of us can agree that you're probably better off if I see your ad in Car & Driver than in Hustler -- even though it's still the same ad and the same pair of eyes in either case.  That's because context matters.  Media planning has always been about math -- reach, frequency, effective reach, Gross Impressions, Cost per Thousand -- but it's also been about vehicle selection.

All the hubbub in the digital space about real-time bidding -- which generally involves bidding for the right to get an impression to a cookie, generally regardless of the publisher, content, or context in which that ad will be served -- has tended to diminish the collective light we shine on the creative message itself, and on the unique value that quality media brands bring to the advertising equation. Somehow, in the digital space, we've come to a place where nothing is sexier than a sweet algorithm (engineers, I blame you!)  Sometimes it makes you wonder what Don Draper would do in a digital world...

But Don would know environment matters; it matters a lot.

ComScore ARS has been doing some work in the area of what we call Ad Amplification (and which you might think of as vehicle engagement.) One of the ARS offerings is to create a Persuasion Score for a creative execution; this score has proven over time to be predictive of sales impact. 

Ad Amplification is the concept that different content environments (TV programs, websites, magazine titles) can have an enhancing, multiplicative affect on that Persuasion Score.  Think about that a second.  We can quantify the differential effectiveness of specific creative executions; and, we can quantify the extent to which placing those executions in engaging content amplifies the positive effects of those ads.  .

Sure, you're probably thinking, "That's odd -- Josh doesn't usually shill in such an overt fashion."  So, well, OK, I'm not suggesting you run out now and go buy some of this stuff. Let's just stick to the research implications.

In an age where we assume we can measure absolutely everything, we'd be wise to remember that sometimes we should turn our measurement attention to the more ephemeral components of the advertising value chain (like creative execution, like vehicle engagement -- or like Ad Amplification.)   And let's make sure that we think about messaging and context in the course of planning and placing our advertising dollars.


And fundamentally, when it comes to advertising, the media vehicle -- the quality provider of branded differentiated content -- remains the advertiser's best long-term friend.  It is more than reassuring that we can measure the value of that friendship in terms of impact on the advertiser's bottom line.
3 comments about "Context Matters".
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  1. Thomas Kennon from Free Radicals, November 24, 2010 at 2:33 p.m.

    Dude, totally shilling, uncool. These columns aren't for that.

    @tkennon |

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 24, 2010 at 4:16 p.m.

    Recommend reading. However, instinct counts. Too many in the metric sides of advertising do not have it. Is your program named HAL ?

  3. Benny Radjasa from Armonix Digital, Inc., November 30, 2010 at 9:50 a.m.

    Well it is true that contest still do matter, but what if I tell you that adverting in Car & Driver cost you $50,000 VS Hustler $5000 (pricing does not reflect the real actual cost, it's for illustrations case only). Perhaps you will think twice now reserving a small amount of your budget for experimental placements where cost is low and impact is high. This has been going with online media display campaigns engagements with DSPs & trading platforms.

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