The Sell: Why It Pays to Go Organic

Without bright lights and colorful billboards, Times Square is just another intersection. But those neon ads make it one of the country's biggest tourist attractions. People flock from the around the world specifically to ogle Times Square's colorful advertising. The bright lights make the experience more enjoyable. No one ever complains about too many ads in Times Square. In some ways, this is like feeding kids vegetables without them knowing it.

Consumers need product information, but, for the most part, dislike advertising. However, when ads are contextually relevant, consumers benefit from the information and enjoy the experience. Ads don't exist in a vacuum; they must make sense both from a marketing and placement perspective. Ads seamless with their surroundings are the most efficacious. Typically we associate contextual advertising with online ad campaigns, but the idea can be broadly applied to other media too.

Magazine advertising is brilliant because readers consciously accept the presence of advertising.

They expect, even welcome, those ads. Consider the legions of teens who decorate their bedroom walls with advertising collages. Or niche magazine titles, where, in many cases, people actually seek out relevant ads. A recent issue of Men's Fitness had 30 pages of fitness-related ads. They are part and parcel of that magazine's experience.

Consumers enjoy relevant magazine ads and purchase those products. Direct-response advertisers, typically relegated to the back of most publications, continue to advertise in magazines because it works. Product and content complement each other thereby increasing sales - the essence of contextual advertising.

Contextually relevant ads can seamlessly blend with the background. To consumers, the ad and the experience are a unified front. Simply put, the ads are so organic to their context that consumers do not see them as intrusive. Rather they are considered a positive, organic part of the experience, enhancing rather than detracting.

When ads don't blend into the background, consumers grouse. Some people complain about commercials in movie theaters, griping that ads are a distraction from the real purpose of going to the movies. What they really mean, however, is that they dislike the non-endemic ads. Those people rarely complain about the movie previews, which really are just another form of commercial. When movie trailers appear between breaks of TV shows they are clearly considered ads. But in the darkened theater, trailers are considered an integral part of the movie-going experience. They are so germane to the content that they enhance the experience.

Very few people outright love advertisements. However, when those same ads are put into an organic context they become beloved. Google has built its business around the concept of contextual advertising. Google has blended content and highly relevant advertising to such a degree that many visitors can't distinguish between the two. Ads for obscure topics like "gourmet organic popcorn" are so relevant that consumers consider the advertising to be beneficial, not intrusive. The context of the message helps change the public's opinion of the advertising.

Sometimes disruptive, non-contextually relevant advertising is necessary. It can be useful for introducing new products. Also, many products simply don't have a content counterpart - there are no TV or radio shows about club soda. Lastly, even relevant advertising will eventually max out on an efficiency curve. We cannot rely on context alone to disseminate the advertising message.

Contextual marketing - advertising that blends with the surrounding content - proves that people like relevant advertising. Consumers react positively to messages that augment their media experience. We can incorporate these principles to make our ads more relevant. By making the ad more relevant to a particular media background, we can make the advertising more efficient and ultimately sell more product.

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