How context + storytelling makes more effective advertising


Sheri Zelle
How context + storytelling makes more effective advertising

One of the most effective ways marketers have to connect with their audience is storytelling. This can be challenging when it comes to advertising because the timeframe for attracting attention, garnering interest, and inspiring action is mere seconds. 

But what if the content alongside your ad was part of the story?

Ads shouldn’t be an island

It’s not uncommon for ads to show up beside content that has no particular relevance to the ad. 

I tested this out by looking at what ads would run next to an article with advice on staying cool at home during a heatwave. None of the ads were precisely relevant, but they were all humorous in their own way given the context – here’s a sample of what I saw ads for:

  • Face masks – so important when working from home,
  • Pods – for a quieter, happier place in open office environments, and
  • Refrigerators – the winner for most relevant since it’s cool and keeps hydrating liquids cool.

We’ve all seen this happen. It can have amusing results like this, but it can also be damaging to your brand and detrimental to the performance of the ad.

The impact of a connected story

Several years ago, Condé Nast and Neuro-Insight partnered to look at how people’s brains would react to digital pharmaceutical ads. Previous research had confirmed the importance of context in advertising, meaning the site an ad is on, the topic of the content on the page, and the sentiment of the content can all work to enhance the performance of ads. 

This new study dug deeper, looking at engagement, emotional intensity, and memory encoding (or ad impact) with two groups of participants—one with diabetes and high cholesterol, and the other with allergies and asthma. 

Each group of participants wore caps with brain sensors while researchers took them through medical and lifestyle websites with ads from all four conditions across several different brands. 

The results showed that ads alongside lifestyle content generated a significantly more intense emotional response, though the recall was similar on both types of content.

Building a story with context

The speed in which content is being produced and the shifting sentiment of a brand’s message presents a number of new challenges and opportunities for advertisers. Whereas legacy use cases saw brands running in general sections with assumed relevance, modern marketers need to add new layers to their understanding to ensure their story’s authenticity.

Marketers are now benefiting from adding a few new key components to achieve tighter connections between their message, story, and content. A few emerging examples include:

  • Watching the trends around what people are talking about/saying to inform the direction you take with advertising.
  • Verifying source credibility to avoid misleading stories or misinformation.
  • Determining the kind of sentiment (positive, negative or neutral) that’s most suitable for your brand.
  • Ensuring your custom keywords, phrases, or even URLs carry the correct context.

And, according to research from IRi, employing a layered approach to contextual targeting in ad placement can improve ROI by up to 30%.

Want to use this approach in your ads?

The Peer39 team is here to help you incorporate these new strategies. Reach out directly to your Account Manager, or reach us at

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