The Content-To-Context Disconnect

Provocative. Unapologetic. Expressive. LOL funny. Some of the best content in today’s landscape possesses some, if not all, of these qualities that keep consumers engaged and wanting more. However, the same cannot be said about most advertising. 

As well stated by a Kantar TNS executive, “We have a more fragmented consumer that on the one hand seems to have the attention span of a goldfish, but on the other hand spends hours binge-watching their favorite series online.” 

Attention is increasingly harder to grab and the content landscape has continued to evolve to meet the insatiable desire of audiences that want to be entertained and connected. Critics, viewers and Nielsen alike, have stated that some of the must-see shows are The Handmaid’s Tale," "Atlanta," "Black-ish," "Jane the Virgin," "Insecure," "One Day at a Time," and "This is Us," to name a few.  

The storylines of these programs vary greatly, but they all magnify real experiences, unearth once hidden sentiments emerging in society, and allow viewers to escape and imagine. As a result, the content and context of these programs are meaningful to audiences, and worth both their time and attention. 



The multidimensional characters in these shows often mirror the untold stories that many are experiencing, allowing viewers to see themselves authentically reflected (often for the first time) in media. Not relying solely on casting of characters, these programs explore deep truths that many times live beyond the surface. 

While content creators make incremental advances, we, as advertisers, must admit that we are doing the bare minimum at best, to keep audiences engaged with our brands and better align ourselves with great content.           

No marketer will argue that the multitude of media consumption options has made our jobs increasingly challenging. Smartphones have become the preferred device for video viewing for the 13-to-35-year-old crowd. comScore estimates 51 million U.S. households have some OTT capability and are averaging 49 hours of OTT viewing monthly and according to Statista, YouTube viewership is estimated to grow 27% between 2016 and 2021 with around 2 billion new users. 

With more places to consume media there has also been a 120% increase in the number of ads in the market between 2008 and 2015. As it turns out, more ads have not led to better and more engaging brand connections. A 2017 Millward -Brown study found that over 61% of people have stated that they skip or tune out ads whenever they can, proving that consumers’ mental availability for what brands are saying is dwindling. 

The truth is, we don’t need more ads. We need better ads: ones that grab consumers’ attention and make them care. Ads that are personalized and have messages that are contextually aligned to the environments in which they appear are essential to the evolving the landscape. 

Leveraging today’s media landscape to tell more meaningful and engaging brand stories has its benefits. Brands that tell stories see higher levels of emotional response and involvement from audiences. 

Millward Brown has found that ads with high levels of expressiveness drive a positive sales lift but  ads with low levels of expressiveness produce negative sales lift.  These findings would seem to indicate that integrating stories into advertising gets consumers engaged and benefits brands. 

As advertisers, we should also take a cue from content creators and become more intentional about telling nuanced stories that are diverse and reflective of where and how today’s consumers really live. 

“Normalizing” the realities of our society within brand stories, with data insights as the foundation, allows brands to lean on knowledge versus casting. A data-driven approach will help uncover universal truths, and dive into the differentiating points and nuances that humanize a brand. 

Sixty-two percent of audiences 13-35 years-old, feel as though they’re an afterthought for brands. These numbers are increasingly higher for ethnic groups (79% of African-Americans/ Blacks; 70% Hispanic and 64% Asian). 

An in-language study conducted by Univision found that being diverse and inclusive increases brand perception by 4%, amongst Hispanics when ads were in Spanish language. Purchase intent against this audience also increased by 6%. 

According to a 2017 Kantar report, 81% of African-Americans are seeking out brands that are inclusive and diverse in advertising messages; and 63% prefer brands that highlight unique traditions and cultural elements in messaging. 

What does your brand care about? Consumers have become more conscious and are demanding that brands stand for something more than just revenue. 

It is imperative to communicate to consumers what your brand values are and what your brand stands for. Eighty-six percent of consumers have a higher appreciation for brands that have a clear purpose beyond revenue generation (this rises to 88% amongst Millennials). Seventy-three percent of all consumers find it important for brands to take a stance on social issues. That’s up 6% in just three years. 

As advertisers and marketers, we all need to up our game and challenge ourselves.

No longer can marketers solely rely on content creators to do the heavy lifting of keeping audiences engaged. We need to get better at strategically using data insights and touch-points to create brand stories worth our audiences’ time and attention. 

And we also need to normalize advertising by reflecting the diverse landscape of today’s consumers -- in how they look, live, and feel. 

It’s important that we use data driven insights to tell stories that have purpose and meaning to consumers. Leaning into relevant causes can garner more brand equity and differentiation, translating into brand love and loyalty. 

Strategically playing up these elements is a starting point to becoming a more relevant advertiser that can sustain and thrive in the ongoing fight for attention.


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