Media Perspective: Context really can change everything. Just ask Ashley Cole

You've probably at least had a play with an iPad by now. Broad consensus?

It doesn't really do anything the iPhone can't but it's nonetheless hugely desirable. Apple lust aside, this desire comes from the opportunity to use it in new places at new times to do roughly similar sorts of things. In that sense, it's a context device more than a content device. And it's a clear demonstration of why context is so important.

Ashley Cole has spent the past few years cast as a villainous love cheat (seriously though, how could you Ashley?). For the next couple of weeks, he's England's irreplaceable world-class left-back. The difference is, of course, entirely down to a football tournament taking place in South Africa. The difference is entirely contextual.

Why were Richard and Judy TV gold in the mornings and at tea-time (come on, admit it) but make such uncomfortable viewing at peaktime? Context. Why do intelligent, savvy millennials slump in front of a Hollyoaks omnibus for hours on a Sunday morning? Context.

To make a case for the power of context seems so obvious as to be almost insulting but we've spent so long discussing the power of content that the vital importance of context too often gets overlooked.

Because while technology, apps and content multiply, the context in which people use them doesn't necessarily follow. In the main, it's context, not content, that anchors our daily lives. And, yet, it's alarming how often context can be an afterthought in communication.

All too often, we still lump communication together in easy-to-trade boxes and then say that TV does this, press does this. We talk about "digital" as if a separate, singular entity. We predict the death of this and birth of that. We create apps because we can. We assume that because technology might allow people to live in bespoke universes of one, this is what they will choose to do.

Getting context right helps create iconic brands and transforms categories - Lurpak's Saturdays, Metro's sublime "Metro moment", UKTV's rebranding of Dave - but it needs people to take brave decisions and see beyond the obvious. So while it might not be that convenient to say so, it matters hugely whether communication is intimate or mass, authoritative or collaborative, personal, shared or networked, passive or interactive, discovered or recommended, routine or irregular.

At its most basic, comms planning has perhaps only ever been about understanding the right context to deliver the right content. As opportunities for content grow, consideration of context can help unlock genuine creativity.

Because while content may well be king, context is so often the kingmaker.

Ian Darby is away.

- David Wilding is the executive planning director at PHD.

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