Jacques Derrida once said that ‘there is nothing outside of context’, and that applies to advertising just as much as any field: context is crucial because it’s how we understand adverts, in context and in relation to the environment around them.


The right people, the right place, the right time, the right number of times; beyond effective creative, advertising relies to a large extent on getting these factors correct, thereby smoothing the way to a primed, receptive audience. And context plays a key role in a number of these factors, which is why it should never be far from the mind of anyone planning an advertising campaign. Failure to do so will leave the hope of that primed, receptive audience up to the luck of the draw.


Context has an obvious history in advertising. For example boutique/luxury brands have always wanted their full page colour ads to run in broadsheet weekend magazines and not in tabloids. Not only because they believe their target demographic will more likely read the broadsheet, but also because they are confident that their brand will ‘fit’ better with the premium media choice. Research by Newsworks suggests that regular readers are “primed” to respond more favourably to advertising due to the existing relationship they have with their newsbrand.


Context also has a less obvious history, with content, context and the involvement rate of the audience all impacting on each other to produce better or worse ad recall. Research suggests that a harmonious context isn’t always the ideal environment, as for some people and some content a divergent context can have a greater impact on ad recall.


And it’s getting more complicated: there is more media (and context) than ever to choose from. According to Ofcom, 16 – 24 years cram an incredible 16 hours of media time into 9 actual hours each day by using different devices and media simultaneously. More media means more competition and less attention, which in turn makes context (and securing an effective return on your marketing budget) all the more important. It could be argued that because of the increased complexity of the media landscape, we are now in a world where impressions don’t matter as much as the contextual quality of those impressions.


This is where technology comes in. For instance via contextual adverts, in which content is automatically matched to adverts by key-word association, works on the basis that adverts are more effective when they are being seen in the right place and by an interested audience. And context is behind the massive success of programmatic advertising, as brands seek the holy grail of reaching “the right person, at the right moment, in the right context.” UK spend on programmatic in 2014 was £1bn, double that of the previous year, and that spend is only going to continue to grow as more brands fight to remain in picture across the various formats and diverse media that now represents the complex world of contexts we consumers live in.


Getting an advert to run in the context that suits it best takes knowledge of consumer behaviour and expertise on how the consumer interacts with the huge range of formats on offer. It takes years of experience and an unnatural love of datasets (looking at our media planners here). And it really matters, because as per Matthew Willcox in ‘The Business of Choice’: “…what people see before your ad could be as important in influencing their decision as the ad itself”.