When it comes to ad placement, we all know that context matters. 

This post is part of our #AdContext Matters series. 

But context is an area that sometimes gets overlooked when creating marketing plans, resulting in odd, perplexing, and in worst cases, disastrous pairings of ads and content. Sometimes it’s helpful to show and not tell, so here are examples of ads in contexts that succeed—and others that miss the mark.

Updated September 6, 2016: 

#ContextMatters: FAIL

This ad featured an image of massively overcrowded jails in the background . . . and a special message from a footwear retailer in the forefront.  So . . . the inmates get free sneakers, or maybe the inmates are the ones making the sneakers?  Probably not quite the association the advertiser was going for. 


#ContextMatters: WIN

The New York Times got clever with dynamic creative and context, showing first one message, “This election season, get the full story” against an article about Donald Trump, and another provocative message, “Real news deserves real journalism” against an article about how people with prosthetic limbs are now conquering all sorts of extreme sports. Going for a relevance win here!  




Updated August 12, 2016:

#ContextMatters: WIN

Smart, creative messaging saved this ad from being a fail. The mobile carrier advertised alongside content that speaks to the dangers of using your phone while driving—which could easily have ended up a big ad fail. But this marketer turned the problem on its head, and used this opportunity to reinforce safe driving habits. It’s not only a relevant ad, but it’s respectful, and one that reinforces the brand’s values.


#ContextMatters: FAIL

Retargeting can be a powerful strategy, but ignoring contextual data signals can often negate that strategy. Here we see a travel site advertising a flight to Florida alongside a healthcare article about the risks of the Zika virus in the area. Is the ad related? Yes. Both are about Florida. But effective or relevant? Probably not. Someone reading about the risks may decide Florida isn’t the best place to vacation right now with this combo. A different travel destination would have made this ad more relevant ad to readers.


#ContextMatters: WIN

Who doesn’t love a staycation? This article has 10 tips to make the most of it, but one particular advertiser is offering up an additional tip – sign up for a free trial and binge on one of their popular new shows. Relevance for the win!  


Updated July 21, 2016:

#ContextMatters: FAIL

CM-retirement fail.png

It’s unlikely that the person reading about retirement planning for childless couples will also be interested in buying strollers for their newborn baby.  Anti-targeting any pages with a “retirement planning” context probably would have done the trick to solve this incongruent context.  

#ContextMatters: WIN

CM-gaming win.png

Stuff magazine isn’t necessarily devoted to online games, but the context of this article sure is.  This online gaming advertiser must have gotten the memo, because this is perfect placement for context relevancy.

#ContextMatters: WIN

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This tourism ad promoting activities west of Boston appears alongside an article on “10 Things to Do in Boston This Weekend,” so readers are already looking for fun things to do. This primo placement basically defines the concept of “relevant advertising.”

Posted July 5, 2016:

#ContextMatters: FAIL


Context isn’t just important for display or video advertising.  It’s also critical for native and in-feed ads.  Here, the smiling faces of a morning radio show’s on-air personalities become connected to the headlines of a breaking tragedy—probably not what the channel intended to happen.  Most advertisers want to stay away from negative content, but in the case of a news or entertainment programming, ads such as this might be better off with more abstract creative.  Or, even better, avoid using negative content in their promotional materials in the first place.

#ContextMatters: FAIL


This clever ad promoted charcoal for a Father’s Day barbecue . . . but not only did it appear a week after Father’s Day, it also missed its opportunity to swap out some text and create a highly relevant July 4th placement.  

#ContextMatters: WIN


This ad for low-rate car loans targets military veterans. Just any reader of Military.com might not be in the market for a car, but someone reading an article on that site about car safety might be, making this highly relevant ad a great example of what happens when context is part of the ad plan.    

Additional #AdContext Matters pieces:

John Douglas

Director, Product Strategy