Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, media was a big part of our family rituals. Like many other families, we would sit down together to watch shows like “Laugh-In” and “Mash.” Back then, our viewing options were limited to the big three broadcast networks, and we looked forward to the “paper boy” delivering The New York Times in the morning. Life was a lot simpler then, but we were content and happy with the intimate relationship we had with our media. Media buying decisions were certainly much simpler back then, too.

Today, we still have an intimate relationship with our media and we look forward to our favorite shows just as much as we did when we were young. The difference, however, is that media is not as much of a family event as it used to be. Online media, for instance – even television shows online — are consumed individually and the advent of the DVR means the ability to consume media at any time. Today, an entire family can be sitting together in a single room but all engaged with either different media or different devices.

That’s the nature of the incredibly fragmented media world we live in now. With hundreds of channels offered on broadcast and cable, a plethora of print options and a variety of online formats – ranging from  media sites to portals and social networks –consumers have more choices than ever today as to where they can get their news, information, entertainment and fellowship.

This has also had a significant impact on how agencies and marketers think about the role environments play in driving consumer online experiences, and whether those consumer experiences are impacting advertising receptivity and response. It is with these varying online environments in mind that the Online Publishers Association (OPA) conducted a study titled, “A Sense of Place: Why Environments Matter.”

To better understand the role of environment, the OPA partnered with Harris Interactive who has extensive experience in measuring consumer connections and specifically how emotion and fit can predict everything from the success of a presidential candidate to the success of a TV pilot.  We   conducted a study of nearly 3,000 U.S. adults across three key online environments: 1) media properties (e.g.,, iVillage,, The Wall Street Journal Digital Network), 2) portal channels (e.g., AOL News, MSN Money, Yahoo! Sports) and 3) social networks (e.g., Facebook, MySpace)

Harris found that four attributes positively influence consumer perceptions about websites – Loyalty, Connection, Fit and Site Quality:


In other words, when a consumer is loyal to a site, feels connected to it, perceives that it fits his or her lifestyle and is viewed as a high quality site, he or she is more likely to trust the content, view it as relevant and timely and advocate on its behalf.

The research further showed that when consumers have a positive perception of a website, a ‘brand halo’ effect is created for advertisers on those sites, because advertisers are more likely to be viewed as offering quality products, and are viewed as relevant and respected brands. Further, the research found that when the brand halo effect is at work, consumers have stated that they have purchased more from those advertisers as a result of seeing advertising on sites they regard highly.

Finally the study revealed the following key findings about environment:

  1. Advertisers are deemed to be of higher quality when viewed on media sites versus portal channels and social media networks.  When consumers were asked to react to the statement “I can feel assured that products and services advertised on [SITE] are of high quality and are from reputable vendors, 24% of respondents agreed or completely agreed that advertisers on media sites were of high quality versus 20% on portals and 8% on social networks.
  2. Media sites are perceived to have more relevant content than portals and social media channels, and that relevance translates into a perception that advertised brands are more relevant when viewed on those media sites as well.  Here, consumers were asked to react to the statement “The brands advertised on [SITE] are generally more relevant to people like me than ads on other sites”.  In this case the 18% agreed or highly agreed to this statement when viewing media sites, vs. 14% on portals and 12% on social networks.
  3. Compared to the other environments studied, media site visitors are more likely to view advertisers as respected brands. When reacting to the statement” [SITE] advertises brands that are more respected compared to other sites, 16% felt this way about media sites, versus 13% for portals and 5% for social media networks. Consumers recognize that a site’s brand and its quality content impacts consumers’ impressions about advertisers in those sites.
  4. The final learning from “A Sense of Place” uncovered a strong correlation between purchase and with feelings of loyalty, connection, fit and site quality.  Advertisers on media sites were almost twice as likely to result in a purchase vs. portals and 3 to 5 times as likely to result in a purchase versus social networks with loyalty, connection, fit and quality being greatest on media sites.

The final learning from “A Sense of Place” uncovered a strong correlation between search and purchase and feelings of loyalty, connection, fit and site quality 16% of consumers surveyed indicated that they conduct brand searches on portal channels versus 14% on media sites and 8% on social networks. However advertisers on media sites were almost twice as likely to result in a purchase vs. portals and 3 to 5 times as likely to result in a purchase versus social networks, with loyalty, connection, fit and quality being greatest on media sites.

So, while much has changed over the years, one thing has remained quite true: consumers’ favorite media brands are the ones they feel loyal to, feel connected with, and that fit their lifestyle and they deem to be of high quality.  Environment still matters and quality content provides the environment that drives loyalty, fit and an emotional connection from both consumers and advertisers alike.

Author: Pam Horan, President, Online Publishers Association