Exponential Interactive, a digital advertising company based in Emeryville, CA, and MasterCard Advisors, the professional services arm of MasterCard, have announced a partnership that will enable Exponential's brands to target their digital ads to audiences based on their offline spending behavior.
Data on spending behavior, which the companies say is anonymous and not linked to any individual, will be extracted from the more than 25 billion transactions that U.S. MasterCard holders carry out at retail locations annually. Some 310 million people hold a MasterCard in the U.S. and 8.7 million locations accept them.
"The vast amount of retail transactions that take place still occur offline," said Doug Conely, senior director, global targeting and data at Exponential. That includes drugstores, grocery stores, superstores like Walmart, and fast-food restaurants. "Very few people order pizza online," added Conely. This arrangement brings that offline intelligence to Exponential's clients by letting them target segments of people with online ads.
Until now, Conely said, it has been common to gather transaction information at the product level ("people who bought Pampers") but not linked to a specific retailer or category of retailer. He said that giving a company access to information on who purchased from them offers them a "virtual CRM" - a customer relationship management system available without having to invest in an expensive new software system.
MasterCard uses the information it gathers to create several hundred standard categories that reflect purchasing behavior, such as "people who buy consumer electronics frequently," or "people who shop at Best Buy." There is no demographic or personal information associated with the categories, according to Conely. Customers can also ask for customized information that doesn't necessarily fit the standard categories.
Although the idea of linking online and offline data may raise the hackles of privacy advocates, the companies say the connection is made without identifying any details of the people purchasing the products. A match network pairs cookies associated with a MasterCard number to those cookies gathered by Exponential's own online platform, which claims to process over two billion anonymous online interest and intention events each day. However, neither company sees any personal information but only the cookie ID and associated segment ID, which is anonymous according to Conely.
Exponential's own digital marketing networks - Tribal Fusion, Firefly Video, and AdoTube - will also have access to the data, so customers can use these platforms to advertise based on the intelligence they gather.
Conely said that Exponential will also work with clients to guide them on a query that makes sense. "Targeting people who shopped at Walmart and Target last month is too broad, but searching for transactions that are too specific, such as customers who bought from me five years ago, are also of little value," he noted.
This article has been updated from an earlier version.
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
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