The Power of Relevance

The minute you go online today, a floodgate opens and information and content begins to pour in, ranging from news stories to video clips to emails to social media. For advertisers looking to showcase brands alongside all this content, the questions are: where and when is advertising most impactful and what tactics should be used to break through the clutter?
In recent years, as marketing dollars diminished, more focus was placed on results, and performance marketing became the proverbial golden egg. Demand has been growing ever since for creative ad units, personalized through data. The result has been the introduction of multiple ad formats that deliver more creative, relevant ads to consumers. The good news is that recent studies have confirmed what common sense dictates: making ads more relevant makes them more useful to consumers. It has also challenged some popular perceptions, such as the belief that intrusive advertising is always a negative.
Researchers have delved into how people respond to advertising in different online scenarios, and we’ve seen, for example, in Yahoo’s “Advertising by Mindset” study, that consumers feel differently about the online advertising they encounter depending on the type of online activity in which they’re engaged. So when paying the phone bill or accomplishing any other goals, they tend to be less open to intrusive ad formats; personally relevant advertising is key to reaching someone in this mindset. But if someone’s watching an interview with celebrities from a new movie release, or browsing the latest gossip about the upcoming royal wedding, distractions are OK and the large ad formats aren’t so bad, in fact, they’re preferred. In this environment of leisurely browsing, contextual relevancy is probably more critical.
Many of the insights into consumer responses to advertising rely on surveys and other self-report means, but when we process stimuli, we don’t just consciously perceive it. Cognitive and emotional experiences can elicit biometric responses, making our hearts beat faster, our pupils dilate, and other involuntary reactions.
In fact, Yahoo’s most recent study “The Power of Relevancy: The Biometric Impact of Online Advertising” confirms that ads that are personally and contextually relevant drive both strong and positive cognitive and emotional responses to advertising messages. In fact, the same ad can elicit a very different type of biometric response, depending on whether the ad is personally relevant to the consumer or contextually relevant to the content being consumed. Interestingly, these two types of relevance have their own unique advantages when it comes to getting our attention: personal relevance makes people fixate on an ad longer, increasing the potential for a stronger emotional and cognitive response, while contextual relevance makes people notice ads faster, making it more likely they’ll store them in their long-term memory for later recall. When used together, the two tactics elicit an impressively high level of cognition and positive emotional resonance.
Advertisers can use these insights and what we know about consumers’ ad preferences to be more strategic about when, where and in what format brand messages are placed.  When communicating new product features, advertisers can benefit most from leveraging personally relevant ads that increase cognitive engagement among consumers. When building brand awareness, brands may benefit more from contextually relevant ads that help build long-term memory of the brand.
The Internet continues to host an increasingly breathtaking amount of information, coupled with new platforms and ad formats. In a space that’s evolving and growing so rapidly, it’s often a daunting task for brands to stand out from the crowd. By understanding how consumers absorb all the available content and stimuli out there– how even our most basic biology tells a story about what we think of the world around us– we can continue to untangle the advertising landscape and ultimately do a better job connecting with consumers.
Lauren Weinberg is senior director of strategic insights at Yahoo.

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