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Thinkbox’s Big Think and The Power of Context in Media 

Friday 22nd June

After returning from holiday a few weeks ago, I was eased very gently back into the middle of the working week by having the opportunity to attend Thinkbox’s Big Think 2018 at BAFTA. This is where Thinkbox take a step back from producing research into the effectiveness of TV advertising and gather together an intellectual line up of speakers to address some of the biggest issues affecting the media industry today. What I found to be the overarching theme of the morning was the power of context in media and its importance in the age of big data.

The first session involved a panel looking at what the industry should be doing with personal data to improve advertising campaigns. Claire Sadler, Marketing Director at Direct Line, highlighted how the advent of GDPR will have a positive effect for brands and customers in the long term. After the dust has settled, advertisers will have a better idea of customers who want to engage with their brand. The higher the quality of the data that can fuel our campaigns will help to build better brand relationships over the long term. Alex Steer, Chief Product Officer at Wavemaker, stressed the importance of agencies investing in the means of collecting and analysing data to then deliver comms in the places that matter. Steer spoke about using data to adapt the Binet and Field 60/40 rule from ‘The Long and the Short of It’ to find the optimal mix of brand building media and activation channels. Finding the right balance between broad reach and effective targeting is the holy grail of marketing campaigns today.

In the second session of the morning Stu Outhwaite-Noel, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder of Creature, extolled the virtues of 30″ TV ads over longer formats which have become more prevalent over the last ten years. Even though 86% of the ads seen on TV are now 30″ or less the appetite for creating award winning long form ads has increased. This, according to Outhwaite-Noel, has seen the perfect 30″ ad become an endangered species like this classic for John Smith’s from 2006: Only 4% of creative awards last year went to 30″ ads, the format that the majority of people actually see. This is an example of the industry ignoring how people consume content in favour of chasing accolades which could have a detrimental effect on brand equity.

The final session came from Richard Shotton, whose book on behavioural biases ‘The Choice Factory’ is currently taking the ad industry by storm. Shotton focuses on how we can utilise behavioural science to influence the decisions that people make. One behavioural bias that he highlights is media context:

‘An experiment carried out by Michael Deppe and his colleagues at the University of Munster, quantified the importance of media context. In 2005, the neurologists showed 21 consumers 30 news headlines. The respondents rated the believability of the headlines on a seven-point scale, with one being the most credible and seven the least. The scores were significantly influenced by the magazine. Headlines in the most respected magazine scored on average 1.9 compared to 5.5 in the least regarded a magazine. Information is not processed neutrally. We are swayed by contextual cues.’

The perception of different forms of advertising is a source of constant debate especially since the rise of programmatic. Shotton suggests that the ability of brands to target specific audiences outside of relevant environments could have a negative effect on brand image over time. He stressed the importance of managing this trade-off between presenting brands in the right environment and using data to target effectively. Some of the world’s biggest advertisers like P&G have scaled back their digital spend in the wake of brand safety scandals affecting YouTube and other uncertainties about the programmatic industry ( They then reinvested into high reach channels like TV and audio. This is indicative of the growing tension between large scale advertisers and the ‘walled gardens’ of Google and Facebook. Scandals like Cambridge Analytica have added fuel to the fire but should have a positive effect in the long term as Facebook is forced to clean up its ecosystem. The pressure put on Google by brands has meant it has improved the way it manages harmful content and brand safety. What’s important is media owners are striving to improve the environments in which brands are viewed online.

In his final point Shotton explored the idea of ‘cost-signalling’ in advertising and the importance of waste. This is where advertising known to be expensive signals the volume of resources available to the advertiser. The perceived wastefulness of premium media improves the image of the brand in the mind of the consumer. He cites the economist John kay who argues that ‘Advertising acts a screening mechanism that convincingly signals the quality of a product by displaying the producer’s sincere faith in his own output, reflected by the money spent promoting it.’ This is why for example famous sponsorships are so effective.

This idea of the power of context in media is important to consider when thinking about how brands are perceived in the mind of the consumer and how we can influence their purchasing behaviour.

It’s important to remember the agenda of institutions like Thinkbox and their mission to promote the value of TV and more traditional media with events like Big Think. However, with ‘The Choice Factory’ dominating the morning’s agenda it’s interesting to see the industry embracing the use of behavioural science and its growing influence in the minds of marketeers.


You can watch The Big Think on demand here:

I also have a copy of ‘The Choice Factory’ if anyone would like to borrow it!

Article Written by

Michael Hannan

Broadcast Account Manager, Total Media

I recently started as an Account Manager in the Broadcast Team having previously worked at PHD for 3 years. Outside of media I enjoy going to gigs and spending all of my money on records.

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