Why Context Matters

When someone waiting at a coffee shop is passing the time on his iPad, it may not be the best time to send him an ad about cholesterol medication. Inviting the same consumer to do so while he’s at home watching a show or researching IRAs on the same device may find the same consumer in the right mind set to think about his or her health.

The difference between the two scenarios is the frame of mind, or context. Context can have a significant impact on the type of advertising to which a consumer is receptive.
Until recently, knowing the device used — whether a TV or a computer — gave advertisers a clue about where the user was such as a living room or an office, because all these devices were tethered. Knowing those locations enabled the advertiser to make some assumptions about the viewer’s frame of mind.
But with virtually all devices becoming mobile, the correlation between the mindset and the device is greatly reduced. Knowing that someone is using a laptop tells us next to nothing about that person’s mood. He may be relaxed, open to vacation ideas. Or she may be frantically looking for the last bit of information for an overdue presentation, in which case vacation is the last thing on her mind.
Assuming a frame of mind based on categories like mobile, online and offline (e.g., mobile = on the go, online = lean back) is unwise, and may be counterproductive.
That does not mean that iPads, TVs and computers are all the same. Ad-format differences remain. You probably want to communicate differently on a four-inch iPhone screen than on a 50-inch TV screen. But that is different than behaving as though knowing what device someone is using tells you his or her mindset.
Particularly in the age of easy Wi-Fi, if we want to make brand advertising more impactful and relevant, then the industry will need to stop making the false distinction between mobile and non-mobile. We need to focus instead on understanding the mindset of the user. When we talk about relevancy, we need to look especially at the point of consumption.
Some of the pieces are already in place and could be used for a new model to establish state of mind: location of consumption, time of day, length of interaction, and content viewed are probably some of the ingredients to come up with a new model of mindset.
Any ads made for the purpose must remain relevant to users’ general interest, and should be appropriate to the device the user is using.
Improving our ability to show the right ad at the right time in the right context, regardless of device, will significantly increase the performance of branding campaigns. That’s the goal toward which we all should strive.
Florian Kahlert is the SVP of KN Dimestore, a subsidiary of Knowledge Networks.   
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