The Promise Of Contextual Creative

One of the most undervalued attributes in advertising is context. 

Programmatic buyers proudly tell you that they are buying WSJ readers on the cheap, by following them to low CPM sites. What’s the difference between the value of the same reader caught while reading the WSJ vs. the West 183rd Street Journal? The answer is all context. 

With the obvious exception of search, analog media seem to value context a lot more than does digital media. The Super Bowl is expensive, because, well, it’s the Super Bowl. September Vogue, morning drive time, the billboard outside the Holland Tunnel, they all have contextual meaning that can be amplified by a clever creative team. 

Context, when done properly, is the vortex between media and creative. Context is most powerful when it is actually part of the creative idea. In its early days, KBP did street stencils on sidewalks for a lingerie client that announced:  “From here it looks like you could use some new underwear.” It’s not a coincidence that most of the media winners at Cannes rely heavily on context.   



But with media now separate from creative in most cases, I fear that this technique is a dying art. 

When it comes to online, we generally rely on technology to do the job. Sometimes it does work, but sometimes the results are testament to the fact that no algorithm can replicate the nuances of the human brain. The pork barbecue ad on the home page of the Jerusalem Post. The cruise ad above the cruise line disaster news item. And my personal favorite, the article on anatidaephobia--The Fear That You Are Being Watched By A Duck--just above the Aflac ad featuring the Aflac duck himself, staring right at you. 

The real power of context is that unlike other communication attributes such as sight, sound, color, and motion, context is all about “me.” Where I am, what I’m doing, how I’m feeling. It’s a creative opportunity to show that you understand the consumer, and make a personal connection. If you are creating an ad in an airport, don’t just look at the numbers, think about how people in airports feel (stressed, vulnerable, etc). 

We once pitched a mattress company on running long-form ads in the middle of the night, when time is cheap, and people who can’t sleep are awake. It was called the “Insomniac Club.” Really boring content to help people (who didn’t own the mattress brand we were selling) fall asleep. Context when done well, says I know you. It makes a connection. 

Let’s promote context to its rightful place in the hierarchy of key factors that lead to success. 

If content is king, perhaps context should be his queen. 

1 comment about "The Promise Of Contextual Creative".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, October 24, 2013 at 1:26 p.m.

    The technique is more than a dying art, it renders the advertising itself irrelevant. What could be considered great creative, in the wrong place, is worthless. I can't think of anything worse.

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