It’s All Relative: The Practical and Emotional Impact of Context in Ad Placement Explained


A large body of research has shown that context – not only the content the ad appears in and the other ads it is surrounded by, but also the media platform or brand, the device, and time and place – mediates ad effects, both positively and negatively.  

For that reason, there are no simple one-size-fits-all solutions for ad placement—something that many advertisers and marketers struggle with, especially with programmatic on the rise.

To further explore this, Horst Stipp, EVP, Research & Innovation: Global & Ad Effectiveness, at the Advertising Research Foundation (pictured left) answers questions for Adotas.

Q: How do you define the context of ad placement?

A: Regardless of when and where a consumer sees an ad, it is never in isolation, but always in a “context”. This applies to the medium the ad appears in, the content (such as a TV show or a social media feed), as well as other ads it is surrounded by, the platform, the device, and even time and place.

Q: What research or evidence exists to back up the existence of the context effect?

A: Research going back 60 years has addressed the following question: Does the ad context impact consumers’ perceptions of and response to the advertising and, if so, how do “context effects” come about?

The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) has done an extensive review of the literature on this subject, confirming the “context effect.” These studies showed that context impacts consumers’ response to the advertising, either making an ad more effective or negatively affecting consumer response.

At the same time, many studies did not sufficiently explain which kind of effects are likely and the conditions under which context effects occur. Because of this, as well as renewed interest in this topic, the ARF analyzed new research and conducted additional studies, applying new methodologies to fill gaps in knowledge.

Q: How does context impact consumers’ perceptions of and response to an ad?

A: Researchers have distinguished a variety of processes that lead to context effects. For marketing practice, we believe those processes can be grouped into two categories: attention transfer effects and priming/halo effects.

Attention transfer effects refer to the fact that ads are more likely to be seen and heard when placed in a context that a consumer pays a lot of attention to and is involved in.

Priming/halo effects refer to processes in the consumer’s brain that cause cognitive and/or emotional responses to the context, which impact advertisement perception and response. Aligning context with the advertisement appears to be a particularly good way to benefit from priming/halo effects. This can be achieved on all marketing platforms, through endemic advertising, “native” advertisements, product placement, advertorials, sponsorship and more.

Q: How does context relate to issues of brand safety?

A: If the consumer perceives the ad environment as inappropriate or if the context evokes negative emotions, priming/halo effects may detrimentally impact on the brand. Brands must be conscientious of the context in which their ads appear, and the threat to brand safety.

Q: How should ad practitioners evaluate context when placing ads?

A: When it comes to the context effect, there is no simple one-size-fits-all rule, but ignoring the context in which advertising is seen or heard by the consumer is risky.

We believe marketers benefit from investing in research that helps them place advertisements in an environment that the target consumer likes and pays attention to. Furthermore, deeper knowledge about their consumers’ attitudes and emotions can help identify those contexts that provide emotional connections between the advertisement and the brand. Thus, they can align with the target’s preferred content and take advantage of positive context effects.


Horst Stipp, Ph.D. is EVP, Research & Innovation: Global & Ad Effectiveness

As part of the ARF’s Research and Innovation team, Horst focuses on global strategy and leads the original “neuro” research project. Prior to ARF, he worked at NBCU for more than 40 years.


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