cat casestudies


The Guardian - Brand campaigns benefit from contextually relevant placement


‘Context affects our decisions to a far greater degree than we realise and it matters when planning advertising, now more than ever. We know that it’s increasingly difficult to get consumers’ attention.[1] We know that despite the swathes of ad inventory available, premium media environments are still relatively scarce. And we know that despite the benefits of programmatic trading, concerns remain about its ability to place ads in suitable environments. 

But what does ‘context’ really mean, from an advertising perspective? Well, it could refer to the consumer’s literal location when they see the ad, or the time of day at which they see it. That will affect their reaction to the ad. Or it could be the media channel on which the ad appears, and the content that surrounds it.


For brand campaigns, the Guardian has found overwhelming evidence that a contextually relevant environment boosts effectiveness. Over the past few years we’ve worked with Swedish ad effectiveness experts RAM (Research and Analysis of Media) to survey our panel of over 3,000 readers/visitors about more than 300 brand campaigns. 


From our Brand Aid surveys,[2] we’ve found that when visitors to the Guardian website view brand ads alongside relevant editorial they are:

  • 10% more likely to pick up new information,
  • Nearly 20% more likely to feel more positive about the advertiser
  • 23% more likely to think that the ad is relevant to them.[3]
  • In print, too, a context effect is evident; ads are 20% more likely to be seen as relevant to the reader when alongside related content.[4]

However, the impact of contextual relevance varied significantly across the six advertising categories we looked at. [5]

For example a travel ad on the Guardian’s Travel site was 40% more likely to appeal to visitors

Quite a different story with finance ads, however; contextual relevance doesn’t necessarily make people like those ads more, but does help them stand out to those in-market (they are nearly 60% more likely to be considered relevant). [7]

Clearly there’s much more for us to learn about the impact of context. We need to find out
about its value on mobile - as digital traffic continues its migration the context of where
and when a consumer sees our ads will become more and more important. And it could
be that there’s an effective synergy between ads from one category and editorial from
another. We intend to explore these theories further – and to keep context at the heart of
the planning process.

 Full presentation in PDF:

context slides

[1] According to Ofcom’s 2014 Communications Report, the typical person now squeezes over eleven hours of media consumption into less than nine hours each day. So we’re consuming a lot of media - and a lot of the time we’re consuming it simultaneously.
[2] For more info, visit
[3] Guardian ‘Brand Aid’ research 2008 – 2015. Average across 92 desktop campaigns. Vs visitors who saw ads alongside non-relevant editorial.
[4] For more info, visit
[5] Travel, Fashion/Beauty, Finance, Tech, Arts/Entertainment, Food/Drink
[7] Average across 11 finance desktop campaigns. Vs visitors who saw ads alongside non-relevant editorial.


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