It’s been quite the couple of weeks for premium content… well, from an insight point of view, that is. With Comscore and Newsworks both releasing studies that prove whether it be in digital or print, there are still deep rewards for brands who’s ads appear in and around quality content environments, the premium ad market has received a much needed shot in the arm.

And it is a shot in the arm that’s needed. We live in an age of mass distraction, where consumers are paying less attention to traditional media channels and media planners are paying more attention to methods of campaign planning that enable more effective ways of reaching audiences at scale irrespective of context (warning: this opinion piece isn’t going to turn in to some sort of anti-programmatic diatribe, but will instead question the prevalence of automated audience trading used as an exclusive means-to-an-end irrespective of campaign goals: The concept of programmatic is often unfairly tarnished with this brush.)

This week Dominic Mills argued in his Mediatel column that the effectiveness industry is having an existential crisis, and it’s hard to disagree. The argument is a nuanced one for print and online however. Where print can often be damned by not being measurable enough (or at least perceived as not being measurable enough – especially for those with shoe string budgets), online is damned by being too measurable. It’s therefore been great to see separate pieces from Comscore and Newsworks address these issues from very different angles.

First off, Comscore’s study “The Halo Effect.”

In an independent study commissioned in in the US, ComScore has proven that advertising on quality content sites (defined as members of the trade body Digital Context Next) delivers a 67 percent uplift in brand metrics vs advertising running on non-premium sires.

As Peter Field and Les Binet are quick to remind us, a focus on short term measures will only yield short term results, and focusing on short terms measures is exactly what pretty much the entire online advertising industry is doing at the moment. A perpetual preoccupation with the click whereby marketers are assessing performance simply in terms of what they can measure, rather than what they should measure has created an ecosystem that is not only having a negative knock-on effect for brands and publishers through increased levels of ad blocking and fraud, but on content too through the proliferation of low quality content which has been created with the primary purpose of generating a click rather than creating genuine utility for a reader (next time you get to the bottom of an article and you are greeted with an invitation to “Read more from the best of the web” ask yourself how closely headlines like “Get rich in just thirty days” really match this description).

It’s therefore encouraging to see a piece of work like Comscore’s that focuses on the branding effect of digital advertising in quality contextual environments get such traction. A focus on binary measures such as clicks yields only short term results and it’s only with premium that the long term effects of brand advertising can be more effectively realised.

Second up: Newswork’s study “Newsbrand Effectiveness: The Evidence.”

Meanwhile, in a watershed study, Newsworks have mined five years’ worth of econometric data to reveal that advertising in news print yields a ROI multiplier of three times its value. Again, this study points to real long term rewards for brands engaging with premium content environments. Offline media is undoubtedly harder to measure than online media (although arguably both are as hard as each other to measure correctly), but it’s great to see that Newsworks haven’t shirked the task and that by mining the IPA’s effectiveness data bank have done so with the objectivity so often lacking from research that comes directly from industry bodies.

The study also points to the fact that print advertising for brands in the finance and services categories offers a significant multiplier effect to TV and radio. And this is what I like about this study: It doesn’t look to pitch news brands in a “My ROI is bigger than yours” battle with other media, but rather seeks to place news brands in the context of other media on the plan, arguing for a return to 2013 spend levels in print, but not asking for more.

Print is pretty much the only media that we ask young millennial agency planners to plan with little understanding of what it actually takes to be a consumer that media. It’s certainly less of a challenge than that faced by TV , radio or outdoor for example and yet with the one of the few silver linings to the Brexit cloud manifesting itself as a boost to national newspaper circulations in June, it is clear that news print is still a medium that offers tremendous value to consumers and brands alike.

To sum up…

Quality context isn’t dead. Far from it: in a world where programmatic has become a byword for automated audience trading that lacks the subtlety to sift quality content from the rest of the pile; and in a world where news print can still offer the impactful and trusted environments that brands crave, context matters more than ever before.

With June’s Global Marketing Index reporting that European marketing budgets are set to tumble post Brexit, every penny of marketing spend needs to count more than ever before. Never has there been greater opportunity (and more evidence) for advertisers to stand out from the crowd by going premium both on and offline.


Ian Gibbs is Head of Commerical Insight at Guardian News & Media. 

Follow Ian on Twitter at @IGDataStories