Context is not just screens

All too often I read articles and listen to speakers go on about the requirements involved in doing digital advertising properly. Invariably, they always talk about context and go on about how the screen, through which the user is exposed to your ad, as well as the user’s geography, are what they mean by context.

I’m sorry but I must disagree

Context is not just screens.  “Context” includes much more than screens.  My model for digital advertising includes 5 dimensions, as you can see from the chart below.

5 dimensions paid media

What most people call screens, I call platforms. They are one of 3 dimensions of my model that are relevant to “context”: platforms, environments and targeting.


Platforms are devices: computers & laptops, mobile smartphones and phablets, tablets & eReaders, Smart TVs and wearable devices.

Each has its own particular usefulness. Although few people have them all, most of us have at least three (computer or laptop, television and smartphone). We use whichever screen is most convenient at any given time based on location and duty to perform. Some things require a computer to perform (need for a keyboard or the precision a mouse can provide) while some things are more conveniently done on a smartphone. Other things are just more enjoyable on the larger television screen (like watching video content or gaming).

I repeat, it’s not just about location, but also what it is we want to do.


Environments are the types of contents we are consuming or engaging with through the internet, regardless of the platform you are using. For example, if you are reading the news, regardless of device, you are there to read the news and see what’s going on – you are not in a mindset interested in browsing the ads there on the news site. However, we pay more attention to ads on service sites (recipes and weather) and search engines – we are there to find specific answers which could be within an ad.


There is a large number of targeting options when doing online advertising. Some are available across all environments, others not. Some are available across all platforms, while others are not, or at least not the same way. All have the purpose to target consumer in a particular context, be it editorial context (contextual targeting), behavioral context or geographical context.

Also consider the following where geography or location is concerned, “location” means more than just geography. The geography aspect can involve whether the individual is at home, at work or out and about. But although we cannot target that far, it also involves where exactly they are in their home, work or out and about – like in the bedroom, home office, living room, in the car, on the sidewalk, in a corridor, boardroom or personal office or cubicle.

Context isn’t just screens

Context is about the user. Where they are (location), what they have at their disposal and what they intend to do.

Context is also about the marketer. Who do you want to talk to? What message do you need to get across? What mindset must your intended target audience be in to be receptive to your message? What environments do they consume when they are in that mindset? What platforms do they use when they are in that mindset? What targeting options, platforms and environments make the best mix to ensure you reach your consumers at the right time and the right place?

Context is much more than just screens.

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