ICM506 Writing

Balancing Content with Context

It often surprises me when major brands with large marketing teams and budgets overlook the value of context in crafting their messages. In 2017, Adidas—the sponsor of Boston’s annual marathon—sent an email to all participants that read, “Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!”[1] In any other city, this email would have felt appropriate, energetic, and congratulatory. In Boston, it felt disrespectful, inconsiderate, and traumatic. That’s because Boston wasn’t any other marathon city. Not since the 2013 Boston Bombing that killed three people and injured more than 260 others.[2] Even an element as simple as a subject line can damage a brand’s reputation if the context is wrong. 

People’s words can be used untruthfully and inauthentically when placed in a particular context. In the summer of 2020, the Trump campaign used a quote from Anthony Fauci in which he said, “I can’t imagine that…anybody could be doing more.” [2] The ad[3] alluded to the idea that Fauci was endorsing the President for his positive handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In response to the advertisement, Fauci said, “In my nearly five decades of public service, I have never publicly endorsed any political candidate. The comments attributed to me without my permission in the GOP campaign ad were taken out of context…”[4]

These scenarios prove a certain point: although good content is necessary, context determines how a message is received. In Chapter 2 of Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World, he preaches, “Content is king, but context is God.” Vaynerchuk’s message is regarding marketing. He explains how to place content in the right context by knowing your audience, understanding the platform, and integrating the message into the experience. 

But, as the above examples explore, the significance of context reaches far beyond marketing. Context can transform any message positively or negatively. By taking the time to understand other people and current events, you can bring context into every factor of your work and life. By doing so, you and your work become more empathetic and relevant. Vaynerchuk’s advice is a reminder to pay more attention to the world around me and to use these observations as fuel to craft meaningful messages. 

[1] Calfas, J. (2017, April 18). Adidas Apologizes After Sending ‘You Survived’ Email to Boston Marathon Finishers. Time Magazine.

[2] Calfas, J. (2017, April 18). Adidas Apologizes After Sending ‘You Survived’ Email to Boston Marathon Finishers. Time Magazine.

[3] Trump, J. D. (2020, October 10). Carefully. YouTube.

[4] . Collins, K. (2020, October 11). CNN exclusive: Fauci says he was taken out of context in new Trump campaign ad touting coronavirus response. CNN.


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