COVID-19 Messaging

07 Dec Context is Key

Believe it or not, every person who watches television, reads books, listens to the radio, checks email, peruses the internet, or simply owns a cell phone, is an expert on advertising. We all specialize in the kind of advertising that engages our individual interests, speaks to our circumstances, and triggers our desire to do something in service of ourselves and those we love.

Through centuries of media consumption, humans have developed an intrinsic, often subconscious understanding of what words, images, and methods of delivery compel us into action. In the digital age, the modern human’s knowledge of effective advertising has become more sophisticated, and thus, our assessments more susceptible to scrutiny. Discovering the promotions that compel us, in turn, has enabled us to determine what repulses us, and why that is so. In the age of whirlwind news cycles, commercial-less streaming, and limitless access to content and information, the advertisements we hate share one common attribute. Intrusiveness.

The failing of intrusive advertising is not in content, but in context. As Gavin De Becker outlines in his book, The Gift of Fear, context gives meaning to the content we are seeing or hearing. This is true when trying to understand human behavior, as De Becker studies in his work, or examining our responses to the way marketing is delivered to us, as we contemplate here. Advertising strategically integrated with content based on our engagement habits runs the risk of seeming Orwellian in nature. However, when done well, we may not be aware that we’re looking at an advertisement at all. And that is why it works. The advertisement becomes a part of the content we are already seeking to consume, in the context that makes their viewing most enjoyable. These promotions don’t just mirror what we like (content), they are also delivered in a way that does not detract from our consumption experience (context).

If integrated ads are a friendly waiter placing a dish you might enjoy in front of you, intrusive ads are a waiter pieing you in the face. You may very well like the dish that’s splattered all over you, but its delivery leaves much to be desired.

As I search for a holiday gift, I’m grateful for the sponsored Instagram advertisements of the watches and shoes I’ve been eyeing. But my gratitude hinges on the context of the content I am receiving, not the other way around. With a bevy of Instagram interests consisting mostly of style and fashion content, relevant advertisements that are integrated into my timeline fit right into my user experience. If these very same promotions just popped up at random, filling up the space on my screen and blocking its content, I would not be as receptive. In other words, I don’t mind if a dish is placed in front of me for my consideration, but I’d prefer that my meal wasn’t launched into my face.

As marketers, we have long understood the importance of mastering content creation. When people feel, they act, and the goal of any promotion is to compel some form of action. Visit a website, buy this, invest in that, join us, support us, etc. That is why there is so much emphasis put towards the content itself. The images, colors, and copy are the evocative elements that energize, enthrall, and engage the audience. But the days of watching commercials while waiting for your program to return or staring at billboards while riding in the car, are over. People can choose where and how they consume content. The context of reception, ala your chosen delivery methods, determine whether or not your content will reach the people it would impact the most.

Making a video advertisement unskippable does not mean a user will view it. Your video may be playing, but your audience will likely just open a new tab or pick up their phone and launch an app. Commercials turn into bathroom breaks. Pop ups can be blocked and advertisements that degrade the user experience are resolved by simply exiting the current page and consuming content elsewhere. If your goal is exclusively to ramp up metrics, this may not be problematic. But if your goal is to generate conversions and actionable behavior, people need to actually consume the content you create. And that starts with delivering it to them using methods that are welcoming and well integrated into the user experience of today.

People who are consumers of content know more than anyone else what they like best. We are all experts on our own interests. We know what we like and what we need at any given moment. Marketing is a business that tries to anticipate our interests and then convey the possibilities to pursue what we like and the solutions to address what we need. In a time where the consumer can determine how we will receive the content that marketers create, understanding the importance of delivery is key to ensuring content reaches its audience. Creating enjoyable content is not enough. As we, and many content creators before us have said, content is certainly king. However, connecting with the modern consumer requires marketers to grasp another important truism. Context is key.

Bruce Freides