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Financial Times Research Shows Context Matters for Digital Advertising

March 18, 2015 | By DCN

Publishers would have you believe that environment matters more than ever when it comes to the effectiveness of digital advertising. The Financial Times wanted to make this more than a theory. To that end, on March 4th, 2015 Daniel Rothman, director of marketing and insight at the Financial Times, presented The 2015 Halo Study – new research that set out to test (and prove) that environment matters more than ever in digital advertising. While this is not the first time this type of research has been conducted (i.e., BBC’s Advertising Dress Test, IAB’s VW campaign test, and DCN’s Branding on Display Research), it’s easy to understand the need for regular updates to this research given the constantly evolving digital landscape.

“This research highlights for advertisers the importance and relevance of websites affiliated with traditional media companies and helps educate (in Halo’s case, using neuroscience) how brands are clearly viewed depending on the environment that they appear within,” Rothman said.

The FT study coined and defined the term “Observable Halo Effect”: the subconscious perception that brands that have ad placements next to high-quality content benefit from the “halo” of that publishers brand, creating trust, and positive measures for their brands. The FT research looked at six brands and nine content providers; brands with ads on the more established content providers (FT, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg) garnered significantly higher brand perceptions, or Observable Halo Effect, compared with brands with ads on emerging sites (Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, Drudge Report, Twitter and LinkedIn).

Rothman noted that “Commissioning a project such as our FT Halo Study is a significant financial and time commitment. Many brands and even smaller agencies may be unable to make investment into projects such as this. We are happy to share all the findings with all marketers and agencies– and have already begun to do that across the US and UK.”

Additional findings from The 2015 Halo Study:

  • Not all content providers are equal. Established content providers are more likely to be perceived as high quality, trustworthy, and more prestigious than non-traditional media owners.
  • You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. When consumers act like media planners, they place 50% more ads in established content sites compared with emerging sites.
  • Right environment = implicit added value to a brand. Customers implicitly have a higher perception of the brand and a quicker reaction time indicating the best natural fit with established content providers. The same attributes — especially high quality and trustworthy — are what people look for in new products and services.


After presenting his findings, Rothman moderated a panel of marketers and agency executives to discuss the results. The panelists were Christine Bacon, Head of Advertising at Allianz Global Investors, David Rosenbaum, EVP, Group Account Director – LVMH at Havas and Matt Hickerson, Managing Director, Marketing & Communications at Macquarie Group.

Some takeaways for agencies and marketers from Rothman’s panel:

  • Ask questions. Before picking content partners, brands must ask themselves:
    What is the brand’s DNA?
    What are my goals and what am I trying to accomplish?
    What is the right audience?
    Is the content provider the right environment for my brand?
  • Brand reputations matter. Brand perception can change based on platforms. Smart brands want to be in smart environments.
  • Quality over quantity. Brands are looking for quality interaction and will only make an impact if there is the right integration. Being on many different platforms and in front of a myriad of audiences is not always the answer.
  • Content adjacency is key. Content adjacency problems are an ongoing issue. Brands can mitigate risk with high quality and collaborative briefs that focus on desired goals and outcomes.
  • Thoroughly evaluate platforms. Well-established brands are not always looking to rush into new environments. And in certain categories (such as financial institutions and luxury products), many choose not to unless there is proven success by similar brands. Brands should properly evaluate each platform they partner with – it’s not always about being the first.

“The Halo Study is an example of the commitment that FT has to providing our clients and the advertisement community at large with unique market insights. One of the advantages of the Financial Times is that we invest significant funds into analytics, which include campaigns performance analytics, brand lift studies, brand tracking studies as well as larger macro industry trend pieces,” said Rothman. While The Halo Study may not repeated for another two to three years, we can expect to see more research from the FT this year, including a study of Opinion Leaders and a Media Engagement study.

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