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Advertising Tips: An Ad's Environment Is as Important as What It's Selling

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  • A recent study found advertisements viewed in high-quality mobile web environments performed 74% more favorably than the same ads in low-quality environments.
  • Customers are three times less willing to seek out brands that advertise with "unsavory content."
  • Ads seen in conjunction with high-quality content have the capacity to generate "up to a 20% higher engagement rate and up to a 30% greater memorability" among subjects.

In the age of content creators and influencers, advertisers have had to adapt to fit the open-source nature of the internet, leading to some major growing pains. With an estimated 163 zettabytes of online content expected to be available by the year 2025 and smartphone adoption in the U.S. expected to pass 70% this year, a newly released study suggests that the content an ad is associated with, among other things, can influence how a brand is perceived by a potential audience. It's a small study with potential for a big impact.

Released earlier today by Integral Ad Science, The Halo Effect: Ad Environment and Receptivity examined how an ad's overall environment impacts people's reaction to it. Researchers at Neuro-Insight used Steady-State Topography to monitor the brain activity of 50 people as they made their way through a simulated mobile experience. Eight "digital display (i.e., banner) creatives" from the automotive, consumer packaged goods, financial services, technology and retail industries were shown on four high-quality and four low-quality mobile web environments.

What researchers found as they watched the brain centers responsible for "positive and negative affinity" was that among the few people in this study, the tendency was to enjoy ads more when they were next to high-quality content and disliked them when the content wasn't acceptable.

"This biometric research demonstrates that the quality of an ad's environment has a dramatic impact on how people react to that ad," said Tony Marlow, CMO at Integral Ad Science. "People respond to the entire context of an ad impression rather than just a single component of it, and this generates a very strong and positive halo effect for ads that are seen in high-quality environments."

When surfing the web, we all want to enjoy our experience. Stumble across a poorly designed website and chances are you will go looking for the same information elsewhere. That kind of site-hopping can be detrimental to advertisers.

Using participants' brain pattern data, researchers found that ads seen on high-quality websites were perceived as 74% more likable than the same ads on lower-quality sites. In fact, officials said those same ads were "actively disliked" when viewed in such conditions. Ads viewed on a high-quality site benefited from 20% more engagement from participants and were 30% more likely to be remembered than if they were seen on a poor-quality website.

Moving forward, mobile online advertising will grow in importance as smartphones continue to dominate people's engagement. According to an eMarketer study, approximately 31% of Americans spent most of their time with mobile devices, while 29.5% said their television was their primary source of media consumption. As a result, experts estimate that media ad spending will likewise get a larger share of ad spending in the coming years.

With advertisers looking to this space to spend their marketing budgets, researchers found that an advertisement's relevance to the content they're viewing matters now more than ever.

According to the limited study, 63% of the consumers who intentionally clicked on an advertisement said they found the ads were "more relevant than they were two years ago." Conversely, nearly 76% of consumers who didn't click on an ad felt its relevance didn't improve at all.

When an unfortunate or controversial situation happens to a content creator, publisher or platform, the backlash from advertisers is often swift. While marketers want to get their brands in front of as many eyes as possible, when those eyes begin looking at something for the wrong reasons is generally when ads get pulled.

According to researchers, advertisers have a good reason to pull out from websites and platforms with problematic content, as American consumers are "three times less willing to associate with brands" that are connected with "unsavory, inappropriate or offensive video content." Researchers also found that those same consumers generally tend to believe that any ads placed with unsuitable content were done so intentionally.

As a result, 80% of marketers in the U.S. have been found to cut ad spending with partners to mitigate the damaging impact of a burgeoning content controversy, while 54% will increase ad dollars with "brand-safe" partners.

"Truly addressing brand suitability will require a shift from all stakeholders in the industry," researchers wrote in a press release. "Advertisers need to clearly spell out their brand suitability requirements without limiting scale, while publishers should actively work with brands to understand and meet their suitability thresholds."

Small businesses may look to organizations such as the Media Rating Council to help them measure the effectiveness and quality of their ads. But this study suggests that you should give thought to what context the reader will see for your ads, not just the pure content of the ads.

Andrew Martins

I am a former newspaper editor who has transitioned to strictly cover the business world for business.com and Business News Daily. I am a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner and prior to joining my current team, I was the editor of six weekly newspapers that covered multiple counties in the state.