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The halo effect is real: New research confirms that ads perform better in quality contexts

August 1, 2019 | By Rande Price, Research Director—DCN @Randeloo

Media companies have long declared that it matters where advertising campaigns run. Unfortunately, when the ability to micro-target users at scale became available, particularly on massive social media platforms, it was simply too attractive for advertisers to ignore.

Despite countless media reports on the risk for brands running alongside toxic, user-generated content on YouTube or Facebook, behavior has never changed for the long-term. Instead, many advertisers used unsophisticated keyword blocking strategies or stopped advertising in the news category and considered themselves “safe.” Regrettably, that something amounted to little more than throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Last week, however, two new research studies released last week clearly demonstrate why this short-sighted strategy needs a serious rethink.

Reports from World Media Group (WMG) and Integral Ad Science (IAS) found that digital ads viewed on trusted editorial sites generate a more engaged audience for advertisers. These reports confirm comScore’s 2016 research that showed ads viewed within a premium publisher environment drive significantly better advertising effectiveness, particularly for mid-funnel consideration.

comScore’s independent research came at a time when the industry was in the midst of proving the basics to the market: that ads were being delivered to real computer screens and being seen by humans, not bots. comScore’s empirical research showed that running ads on “premium” publisher sites had significant impact on brand effectiveness and the lift to advertiser brands was attributed to the “halo effect” from the premium environments.

Quality context delivers real results

Fast forward to 2019 and WMG, a global alliance of a dozen leading news and media companies (e.g. The Atlantic, Bloomberg Media Group, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post) commissioned Moat, a digital marketing measurement service, to conduct research on the quality and engagement towards premium inventory across desktop display, mobile display and desktop video.

The findings showed that premium digital inventory running across quality content brands in Q3 2018 outperformed Moat’s benchmarks by between 13% and 144%. WMG’s research also concludes that the primary driver of increased engagement is the “halo effect” that comes from the value of the contextual environment in which the ads are seen.

Key performance metrics

  • Desktop display ads viewed achieved an active page dwell time of 66 seconds, 39% higher than the industry average. The in-view rate (where 50% of the ad is viewable for 1 second) and in-view time both exceeded Moat’s benchmarks by 27% and 25% respectively.
  • Mobile display performed 35% more interactions than average. Viewability rates were 32% higher than the benchmark and engaged consumers for 13% longer.
  • Desktop videos viewed achieved 22% higher-than-average rates for viewability. Consumer attention to videos was also high, with audible and visible completion rates at 144% higher than the Moat Q3 2108 benchmarks.

People react to context

Additional biometric research by IAS, a technology company that analyzes digital advertising placements, identified the impact of high quality and low quality mobile environments on people’s reactions to digital ads. This neurological research – looking at the brain centers responsible for positive and negative affinity – further substantiates that the environment in which an ad appears has significant impact on consumers’ reactions to that ad.

IAS’ research found that ads viewed in high-quality mobile web environments are perceived 74% more favorably than the same advertisements seen in low-quality environments. Advertising in high quality content environments resulted in 4% greater favorability, 20% greater engagement, 7% greater emotional intensity, 29% memory encoding detail, and 30% memory encoding global.

For several years now, advertisers have struggled to use digital advertising to grow demand and desire for their products, particularly as direct-to-consumer brands and other low-cost, “brandless” options (see Amazon Basics) are starting to flourish. Like the earlier comScore Halo Effect research, these new studies prove that advertising on high quality content sites drives higher brand attention and engagement for both display and video advertising. Context matters and research continues to prove this: Ad performance is better in a premium content environment.

The only question is when brands will act.

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