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Tesco: Ignore context at your peril

29 Jan 2020  |  Nick Ashley 
Tesco: Ignore context at your peril

Advertisers should work collaboratively with their agencies and partners to develop contextual standards, writes Tesco's Nick Ashley

Media has three key components: the audience receiving the message, the channel or platform on which they are receiving it, and the context in which it is being received.

Understanding and targeting the right audience is of course critical, but it is not the only factor. With the rise of programmatic and technology, a solitary focus on audience had diminished context.

If context is diminished, we run into problems of brand safety, viewability, fraud, mistrust and all those millions of marketing column inches that we have witnessed since the start of this decade.

Avoiding content for safety reasons can also be detrimental to marketing effectiveness with huge audiences essentially ignored because the content terms associated with them are also linked with unsafe content.

In 2018 Vice revealed a study they had carried out on the most blacklisted terms marketers used as a tool for brand safety. Gay, Muslim and Asian all appeared on the top of the list.

I am seeing a solution that addresses these problems and that is to put media planning craft and context at the heart of marketing operations. There is no one model to do this, but the skillset must be there.

At Tesco, we were thrilled to win the Grand Prix at the Cannes Media Lions for our Food Love Stories campaign. Awarded for its excellence in media planning, it was noticeable that the judges had enjoyed the craft and planning rigour that made up the campaign.

There is one area of trade craft which I am seeing more of a focus on – the context in which advertising appears. This context could be the editorial environment, the location, the day of week, time of day, mindset or mood that someone receives the message in.

So, why is context so important?

The right context can deliver greater impact.

There are numerous studies that show ads in premium publisher environments drive better brand metrics – most recently a GroupM and Newsworks study showed campaigns in premium environments had stronger ad recall (+19.2% higher than non-premium/exchange), +10.5% in brand awareness and +9.7% in brand perception.

The wrong context can deliver mistrust.

Conversely, the wrong environment can have a negative impact. According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, one in three believe it is the brand’s fault if its advertising appears near hate speech, violence or sexually inappropriate content.

40% believe that the points of view surrounding a brand’s advertising are an indication of the brand’s own values.

There are three key enablers to maximise the value out of context: technology, clear standards, and media expertise within marketing operations.

Advertisers should work collaboratively with their agencies and partners to develop contextual standards.

Tesco has developed bespoke AV and VoD standards to ensure our digital advertising is placed in the best quality environments, that are contextually relevant.

For example, we insist that the majority of 30” video advertising appears in formats where the user is likely to have the sound on and is watching on a big screen (TV/Tablet) to ensure the best user experience.

Any advertising placements that are found in poor quality environments, whether this be due to the nature of the content we are appearing next to or the placement itself not being viewable, we expect compensation from the media partners. We have already seen significant improvements in metrics such as ‘viewability’ and adverts served in ‘large players’ since implementing these standards.

A case study of this in action was a partnership Tesco Finest* developed with Sky, a media-first sponsorship of big-screen VOD throughout October 2018 on Friday and Saturdays to tap into indulgent end of week catch up viewing. Quality and taste perceptions of the 3.2M who saw the Finest* VOD idents on their big screen grew by double-digit percentage points, while consideration also improved substantively .

Marketing operations requires media expertise.

Media and creative in tandem will always deliver the best results. Over the last few years, there has been a significant investment by marketing departments to in-house media expertise. This is not to replace the role of agencies, but to work collaboratively with media agencies, brand managers, creative agencies and campaign managers to put media at the top table.

Yes, the media client needs to ensure that media investment is managed effectively and efficiently. But the real difference will be where media clients help put the craft of media planning at the front and centre of marketing communications.


Nick Ashley is Head of Media and Campaign Planning, Tesco

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ChrisLadd, Head of Media, Nationwide Building Society on 30 Jan 2020
“Excellent piece Nick. Great to hear publicly from one of my peers within ISBA's Media Leaders Group.”
BobWootton, Principal, Deconstruction on 29 Jan 2020
“Bravo, Nick for stepping forward with this well-argued point of view. We need more advertisers to speak out and, critically, walk the talk too.”

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