Out-of-Context Ads Prove Effective

NEW YORK New research casts doubt on the long-held belief that advertising is most effective when placed near content related to the product.

Yahoo! and MediaVest recently studied a group of consumers passionate about a particular subject area. Product ads displayed out of context had roughly the same impact on brand preference as identical placements shown next to related content.

Yahoo! asked self-identified food lovers to rate various brands, including the single-serve gourmet coffee product Tassimo. Brand affinity increased 26 percent among those shown the ad on a Yahoo! Food page, and 21 percent among those shown the same ad on a Yahoo! News page.

While the finding was a small part of a wide-ranging study, it suggests some softness in the long-held belief that ads shown in context are more valuable than those seen out of context.

This becomes a key issue moving forward: With new targeting tools, it is easier than ever to find specific audiences, such as foodies, wherever they are online, rather than only on food-related sites.

“Targeting the right people is more important than the content,” said Jim Kite, president of connections research and analytics at MediaVest, part of Publicis Groupe.

The study supports earlier research by behavioral targeting companies like Tacoda and Blue Lithium. A Tacoda study in late 2005 found that users actually noticed out-of-context placements based on behaviors more than in-context placements. And according to an October 2006 study by Blue Lithium, out-of-context, behaviorally targeted ads yielded higher conversion rates, though fewer clicks.

The findings should lift the spirits of companies like Yahoo! and AOL that are busily reinventing themselves, relying on their ad networks to give them added reach. Yahoo! has inked a deal to buy Blue Lithium; Tacoda is now part of AOL. With their portal sites serving as gateways, both companies hope to use their network assets to target ads to people with specific interests once they leave the portals for other online destinations.

For the most part, in-context ad placements are priced higher than those shown out of context with targeting information.

The study is notable because it gauged the most valuable customers: those passionate enough about subjects to spread messages—including brand messages—among their peers.

The study estimates that, depending on the category, 17-31 percent fall into the hyper-engaged consumer category dubbed, “Passionistas.” Fifty-two percent are more likely than average consumers to recommend a product. It’s no surprise that ads imparting some knowledge and/or added value on subjects of interest were found to have the greatest appeal.

“If a brand aligns with a passion, it doesn’t matter where the audience is,” said Edwin Wong, director of consumer insights at Yahoo!.