Newsworks released a study in 2015 looking at the impact of a trusted and familiar context on readers’ responses to brands advertising in these environments.

“The company you keep” revealed a significant news brand context effect, which increases when people physically interact with a print newspaper or tablet edition (i.e. turning a page).

Print advertisers can often tailor content more easily to surrounding context, making it more relevant to readers.
Print advertisers can often tailor content more easily to surrounding context, making it more relevant to readers.

Recently, The Times’ investigation into dubious digital ad placements has highlighted the risk of advertising appearing next to “contextually irrelevant, inappropriate of offensive material,” as WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell wrote in The Sunday Telegraph, placing context firmly in the limelight.

Of course, not all digital ads are inadvertently keeping bad company — far from it — and digital ads on news brand sites offer advertisers a quality, trusted, and relevant environment through which to reach readers. For example, take the recent TheirWorld ad, which appeared on the Guardian’s home page on International Women’s Day, drawing attention to gender inequality.

When it comes to newspapers in their printed form, one of the key strengths is brands know exactly where their ad is appearing within the pages, and they can often use this to their advantage.

Take Thomas Pink’s press ad in the Evening Standard’s “Budget 2017” section, published the day of Phillip Hammond’s spring budget. Simply reading “Dear Chancellor, we think you’ll approve ... The business bundle 4 4 £200,” the ad made sense in this context and wouldn’t have worked as well in any other environment.

On a wider scale, the British Heart Foundation ran a series of ads in an edition of The Sun last month, using the detail of surrounding editorial to make a point.

“Okay so there’s a woman in court or that chewing story top right. Plus the little bit about Wiltshire in the corner. Where do you begin?” one example read. “Start with the serious news. Maybe the light-hearted news. How about the news that heart disease can kill when you least expect it? That’s right. Even now.”

Running throughout the newspaper, the ads were tailored to the surrounding content — from what Rita Ora was wearing in the show biz section to the TV listings — with the approach making for a relevant and intelligent campaign.

The ads for Kong: Skull Island were printed vertically across the pages.
The ads for Kong: Skull Island were printed vertically across the pages.

Using context in a different way, Legendary Entertainment and Tencent Pictures utilised the front and back pages of Metro for the launch of Kong: Skull Island. This was clever for two reasons:

  1. It conveyed the scale of Kong by stretching the creative vertically across two pages via a poster-style format, echoing traditional film posters.
  2. It made the launch of the new movie front (and back) page news, with even the newspaper’s blue masthead altered to fit with the artwork.

Finally, Tesco has been utilising the engaged context newspapers offer with a long-copy ad about its food waste initiative. According to the latest IPA TouchPoints data, people spend 69 minutes with their newspaper on the days that they read, making print the perfect environment for ads needing a bit more concentration. Additionally, the newsworthy context of a newspaper works well with informative ads such as this.

So whether placing a topical ad alongside relevant editorial or employing the trusted, quality context of newspapers to great effect, where you’re seen has never been more important.