Whenever a consumer sees an advertisement, it is not in isolation, but in a context. “Context” usually refers to the media space in which the advertisement is embedded: for example, a commercial in a television program, an ad in a magazine or on the radio, a banner on a website or a video in a social media feed.

Does this kind of context impact consumers’ perceptions of and response to the advertising and, if so, how does context impact advertising?

A large body of research, spanning six decades, has shown that context is likely to affect ad performance, both positively and negatively. Positive effects have been shown when ads are placed in a context that consumers are involved in and pay attention to, and also when there is an alignment between the context and the ad message. Studies have found such effects for the content next to the ad, but also for the media platform or brand, the device, and even the time at which an ad is seen.

Today, there is renewed interest in this topic due to a number of factors: one is the growth in programmatic advertising with its focus on improving targeting and efficiencies, while the context in which the ad appears is regarded as relatively unimportant. At the same time, advertisers are increasingly worried about seeing their advertisements placed in inappropriate contexts that could harm their brands, especially in digital environments. Further, concerns about ad avoidance and ad blocking are leading marketers to consider alternative, branded content formats, such as native advertising, that take advantage of context: these ad formats align with the content in order to make advertising less disruptive (Bowman, 2017). Finally, researchers are able to apply innovative tools, including neuroscience-based methods, which provide deeper insights into consumers’ responses to both content and advertising (Marci, 2006). All these factors have stimulated new research being conducted under today’s marketing conditions.