Let's rethink targeting

keywords: advertising networks, advertising, advertisers, publishers, targeting, purchase intent, native advertising, advertising efficiency

gist: when planning the targeting of an advertising campaign, you should not only think "where do I locate consumers with such and such characteristics?" but also "where do I locate places where consumers go with the intention/ mood to consider purchasing such and such products?"

A friend of mine, running a small advertising network, shared to me his idea how to stand out in the face of fierce competition of numerous other players. It's really the law of the jungle out there. Google Adwords, albeit the big bad boy, by far does not breathe in comfort.1

Over coffee, he depicted to me his competition killer vision - very few advertising networks provide detailed information about publishers2 in their networks and he wanted to make difference by providing utmost transparency as to where, how and to whom your ad would be shown. We discussed things like what information should be available about the publisher, how we could extract that information, how it should be presented and so on. We sketched up a few paper wirefames on the table. We proceeded, in a mode of inspirational agitation, thinking about "what was the really important information that an advertiser needed to know about a publisher?"

Traffic statistics, demographics, page screenshots… all these were to be put there and with some cool design they'd become an immediate eye catcher.

But… something still felt missing. Something felt not quite right and evasive.

All those stats, analytics, figures and colourful infographics about a publisher - weren't they just a way to spare the essence of things?

Well, what's really the most important thing about a publisher? What would I care about if I were to spend money on that advertising network?

The audience, without any shadow of a doubt, I replied to myself. I would not care how much that traffic that publisher brings, how high ranked they are, what glamorous brand they have, how prominent the CEO is or anything like that. Deep inside I would be nervous to know if my potential customers would be reachable at that publisher or not.

I don't want an empty promise that they might somehow maybe be there. I want convincing evidence. And I also want precise targeting. Advertising to those who would never purchase from me is money down the drain.

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The established "business wisdom" of targeting, though, is to either:

a) make your advertising messages as conspicuous and pushy as possible, disseminate them as intensively as possible, in as many places as possible (aka spam);


b) outline the characteristics of your target consumer segments and based on that think where is it probable to locate them. Then advertise there, analyze results, refine the list of locations.

While "a)" is not worth discussing, let's elaborate on "b)".

Initially, it seems completely logical. The problem is that, while an approach in the right direction, it is an appallingly imprecise approach. If we are to sell computers and we target computer literate males, aged 20-35, above average net income, we could certainly find consumers with such characteristics in a night club. But if we advertise there, do you think the campaign would bring success?

Obviously, demographics/ interests are nearly meaningless by themselves. This holds true even for purchase intent. It might be possible that a portion of those males in the night club are planning to purchase a new computer. But how likely would they be to care about that in the middle of the night, under the influence of alcohol, while socializing with friends and among attractive females?

Demographics/ interests/ purchase intent/ etc make sense only when the right context is added - the right situation, with its predominant mood, attitudes and conversational topics.

"That's self-explanatory" - you might replicate - "no one would be so silly as to advertise computers in a night club, would he?"

Well, if we are speaking about the physical world, no, not for sure. But look what happens in the virtual world!

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Advertisers select where to show their advertising messages on so primitive criteria such as general topic of the web site and some (dubious) statistics about location/ sex/ age/ net income of the web site's audience. And that's all.

What I suggest here is that we improve targeting, either offline or online, by hand-picking not only the places but also the activities which happen at these places.

We should consider not only who is the audience of that given web site, but also, what they actually do there and why they care to do it. What is keeping their minds engaged there?

Once we are clear about that, we should make our judgement whether our advertising message aligns with the context of typical activities on that web site. In my view this is the first and indispensable filter to be applied in targeting.

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Summary - classification of targeting according to the level of precision

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What do you think?

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