Context is Your Best Wingman

I don’t talk much about my job outside of work, but occasionally I get questions about which Mad Men character I am, or someone asks me to pull up a TV commercial our agency created. Showing a final product is fun. But little do most people know just how painstakingly hard the creative process can be.

Creating a marketing campaign for a business can be intimidating to start and impossible to know when you’re finished. So how does anyone proceed with the confidence that the message will work? The answer is to think about it from the target audience’s perspective, and furthermore, identify when and where the audience will be when the message reaches them.

Hot dogs sell at baseball games, but not so much at the opera. Swimsuits don’t jump off the shelves in Siberia quite like they do in San Diego. Context is the supply and demand of communication: why do I need to hear your message and why right now? The present moment drives so much of our buying behavior because we always perceive the world in the present moment, and thus our emotional relations to brands are defined by these interactions. Anytime you try to create an ad or marketing message, that simple truth cannot be overstated. The timing and placement of your message are equally important as the craft of the art and copy.

Let’s take a message as straightforward as a ‘stop’ sign. Left alone on say, the floor of an office building, it’s just an octangular buzzkill that seems worked up about nothing. It communicates, but the message loses its audience. As soon as we place that same sign on a metal stake at the corner of an intersection, it suddenly boasts a powerful and confident voice that captures the attention of every driver – well, at least in Idaho.

Timing and placement – the context of the situation – is why the message is so compelling. Like a good wingman, context is there to reveal the right things to say and when and how to tell them.

Today with advanced mobile and digital platforms, advertisers can reach out to a very targeted audience just about anywhere and at any time. But, since ads have flooded the landscape and saturated us with messaging, people have learned to block ‘the noise.’ With such an uphill challenge to simply be noticed, it’s essential to find the intersection to place your stop sign.

One example of how our agency used context to boost a message took place last spring during the “March for Science” rallies on Earth Day. The social climate of the time was spurring a lot of positive talk about the event, so when we collaborated with one of our clients, an exploration-based learning company, it seemed like an ideal situation. After all, a large national audience was highly inspired to support scientific education, and what better platform to speak from than a company using a burgeoning scientific advancement – virtual reality and technology – to stimulate young minds? However, this was also a case of ‘too much of a good thing.’ With so much support, it became a real marketing challenge to stand out from the noise (albeit a very positive noise).

The solution? We created a social media photo filter celebrating science, geofenced Capital Hill (where the largest congregation of supporters were marching), and layered that with a compelling integrated marketing campaign entitled, “This is what a scientist looks like.” By celebrating the power of science, the message reinforced the timing, location, and the energy of individuals marching that day.

It doesn’t have to be that comprehensive every time, but when we keep context top of mind, we can better anticipate how our message is going to look, sound, or even feel. The next time you’re creating an ad or message, try to experience it from your audience’s point of view.