Where an ad appears can sometimes communicate more than the ad itself.
Keith Browning, LinkedIn’s brand marketing global lead, shared an interesting analogy a few years ago on the relative importance of content and context. He recounted an experiment by Joshua Bell, one of the top violinists in the world.
One day, Joshua stepped onto a metro stop in DC and played a 43-minute solo concert during the morning commute. Over a thousand people passed within a couple feet of him, but only seven people stopped to listen and only twenty paused long enough to drop a donation in his violin case. He made just over $32.
Two weeks early, he played to a packed house charging $100 a seat at Symphony Hall in Boston.
Same “content”, very different “context.”
Here’s how Keith connects this experiment to the mistake marketers make if they overlook context in their media buys:
“Advertisers’ early use of programmatic buying was often based on the assumption that targeting trumped context. Being able to target people wherever you wanted allowed you to reach them far more efficiently. Since ignoring context lowered costs, it must be an improvement.
“Many strategies still apply the same logic, especially when it comes to response. If you can get enough people to click on an ad for a low enough cost then it doesn’t matter where your ad appeared, or how many other people saw it, in order to get that response.
“It’s tempting to use ever more advanced analytics to optimise marketing ever more efficiently around these outcomes. However, that would be a huge mistake – and the Joshua Bell experiment helps to explain why.”
In a post-cookie world, taking context into account is suddenly in vogue again. And yet, one size doesn’t fit all. Not every brand will look at context the same way. Nor will every consumer.
Marketers need a more nuanced approach — from the blunt hammer of “brand safety” to the more careful evaluation of “brand suitability.”
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: