A Critical Note on the Importance of Context

Things change quickly in our digital world. Last week, Twitter announced they were cutting 9% of their staff and shuttering Vine. Apparently people did not really want to actively connect with brands via six second videos on an ongoing basis.

Vine was fun. Back in its heyday, it provided a lovely form of distraction, particularly in the hands of people like Brock Davis. But any rational consideration of its context, of how and when people used the platform, would categorize Vine as something for downtime, for filling in-between moments when you simply wanted distraction.

That’s hardly an ideal platform for a sales message. And no; companies won’t provide free social media platforms if they can’t figure out how to monetize them. In every case, that requires funding from marketing dollars.

If they stopped to think about it, most advertisers would understand that people won’t find meaningful engagement with their brands in just six seconds (entertainment brands are one critical exception). A fascinating study released this Spring from Mondelez and Droga5 comparing commercial cuts of :15, :30, and 2:00 lengths found the :15 worked the least and was skipped the most.

My point isn’t to argue for longer film; it’s to emphasize the critical importance of context –in message, platform, and timing. Understanding Context, like understanding your Audience, is crucial.

Platforms may come and go—and increasingly quickly in this modern era—but the power of an amazing creative experience at the ideal time will resonate powerfully as long as there are sentient beings to feel them.



Let’s Make 2013 Remarkable; Here’s Some Inspiration To Get Things Started

Context ebbs and flows amidst the sturm und drang of the workweek. The demands of immediacy extract a corrosive effect on one’s longview. And so weeks slip away, lost to reactionary effort and momentary urgency that ultimately prove gossamer and weightless.

But we must create space for context. I’ve made that my goal, my New Year’s resolution: to seek the meaningful not the loudest, to find the resonant amidst the distractions.

This spectacular piece from filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg’s talk at TEDxSF is a wonderful mental palate cleanser. Watch it. Yes, we can all find ten minutes for his amazing visual piece on gratitude. It might not feel like it as we head back to our jobs with the workweek already half over, but we do. There’s alway time for important things. And frankly, the little girl in this piece describes creativity better than I ever have: “…and when you explore, you get more imagination than you already had. And um, when you get more imagination, it makes you want to go deeper in. So you can get more and see beautifuler things…

Yes, let’s all see beautifuler things. Here’s to great creativity and accomplishment in 2013. For each and every one of us. Not in competition, but in mutual celebration. Thanks Maureen, for finding this piece. Now please, everyone; go amaze us all, won’t you?


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Context: The Next Frontier For Advertising

Forget ROI, forget GRP’s. forget unique selling benefits (please!): in the very near future, as advertising and marketing continues its accelerated evolution in our fragmented, parity world, the discriminating value most critical to brands and brand messages will be context.  And it will directly influence the creative idea.

Context Matters.  It ALWAYS matters.

Context Matters. It ALWAYS matters.

Last year, advertisers posted 3.6 trillion banner ads on the web; that’s 36 followed by eleven zeroes–an unimaginably astronomical number. This exercise in sheer, dunning message tonnage flies in the face of any sort of strategic placement; it represents the ultimate blunt object approach.  But the promise of Web 3.0 and a more discerning, more discriminating web intelligence will only heighten marketers’ ability to target demographics, occasions, moods, and mindframes.  Instead of the time-honored methods of mass impressions, we will be able to focus more tightly and take advantage of the emerging media strategy of ‘overwhelming the niche.’  After all, while few can afford to scream their message indiscriminately to the fragmented masses, most will invest in vehicles that reach their ideal consumer at the ideal time.  They will even be willing to overinvest in those occasions.  This has been the promise that’s fueled mobile marketing for years now despite still sketchy returns.

Context will provide marketers with that edge.  In a world awash in Brandfill, context elevates individual brands in consumers’ minds, providing the ultimate value of engaging relevance.  As we become ever more adept at converting data into information, we become ever more astute at creating context and driving sales.  And yes, even in this data driven approach, inspirational creativity still matters.  What separates the merely effective from the truly exceptional is creativity and its unique ability to inspire and move people.  Ideas will continue to matter; the difference will be the context will influence the creative, making the voice and message far more selective and specific.  And that could be a hill of fun.

If you can put your brand where it’s needed, wanted, valued, or discussed…  If your brand messages prove useful, understanding, appreciated or simpatico…  Simply put, if your brand messages are welcomed into consumers’ lives because their timing is impeccable, you will build an Olympian brand loved passionately by your consumers.

And maybe make advertising something people hate a bit less.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

CONTEXT: Advertising’s Next Creative Frontier

TV commercials, print ads, posters, radio spots, banners, rich media, long form: most creatives can generate competent content once they develop a feel for the format.  The challenge of content boils down to narrative or stylistic innovation and surprise.

The Right Message At The Right Time

The Right Message At The Right Time

But content won’t be the biggest challenge for creatives over the next few years; context will.  Advances in data farming and technology-empowered customization will challenge creative imaginations to anticipate and empathize, to visualize and speculate around consumer engagement occasions like never before.  Soon, it will no longer be enough to dream up a surprising idea; we will have to go further and determine how to customize that idea based on variables like target age and gender, time of day and social setting, even changes in weather, news and collective mood.

To truly exploit context demands a more fully immersive imagination: a skill previously unasked of advertising creatives, yet one that will increasingly drive the differentiation and success of marketing platforms.  Messages that reference, or at least acknowledge, the world surrounding them will find more receptive audiences.

Context has long been the promise of mobile marketing.  For the past few years, we’ve been promised the revolution of using GPS location to activate messages regarding local offerings and attractions.  It also promises to improve search as algorithms grow more sophisticated at filtering meaning based on user data.  And it promises to reinvent usage of the humble coupon, creating ever more relevant offers based on demographics and location…and perhaps even astrological signs.

Historically, traditional agency creatives have ceded the entire contextual domain to direct marketers.  But as technology continues to improve and refine user data, innovative thinkers will dream up ways to use this information to exponentially improve the relevance, engagement and impact of their ideas.

Because the most powerful messages are deeply personal.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79