Audience Segments and the New Creative

One of the most critical issues in behavioral targeting’s development is often the least discussed: creative. Specifically, in a world of audience-centric advertising, what does great creative look like?

We’ve been down this road before. Ten years ago, we talked too much about the technology, neglecting to point out it would only work if effective creative were part of it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons it took so long for traditional advertisers and agencies to truly embrace online.

Once we started do more than just put “stuff that moves” into banners, with generic calls to actions such as “click here,” we found success and acceptance with advertisers. Site publishers made agencies their partners. Industry leaders such as Wenda Harris Millard at Yahoo, Scot McLernon at MarketWatch, and Joanne Bradford at MSN, made the promotion of great online ad creative a priority. It paid off. Industry trade groups, led by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Online Publishers Association (OPA), made showcasing great creative a key mission. It paid off. Industry conferences built awards programs around great creative.

Quite unlike the manner in which ad creative in offline media is traditionally celebrated, a new theme is front-and-center in the examples cited above: the advertisers’ quantifiable results.

As online advertising shifts to a future based not only on the page but also on the person, we must be proactive about understanding how online ad creative will need to evolve. Since online is the only measured media that truly can deliver fully addressable, fully measurable advertising, this is a key differentiator between online and offline media. Online is positioned to provide advertisers with the ability to deliver truly relevant creative and achieve true brand engagement. The medium is unique not only in its addressability and engagement but in also its measurability.

Consequently, we must promote development and celebration of great creative in behavioral targeting. We have an emerging platform that enables media agencies to truly target their buys to very specific audiences, though we have lots of work to do to make it simpler and more scalable. Most of that value will be unrealized if we don’t understand the new creative paradigm audience-centric advertising offers. It will also be lost if we don’t use hard numbers to communicate its effectiveness.

Just as we watched in wonderment as sites like MarketWatch pushed the creative envelope for page-centric creative, turning its site into a watermarked Budweiser happy hour on Friday afternoons and driving Porsches through contiguous ad units across the page, we must do the same with audience-centric audience. Like MarketWatch, we must also demonstrate measurable lift in specific brand metrics with studies from firms such as Dynamic Logic.

Where should we look for inspiration? Here are a couple of ideas for some low-hanging fruit:

  • “Out-of-context” creative. There are already numerous case studies demonstrating you can generate a powerful brand engagement by targeting in-market consumers out of context. Delivering automotive brand ads to in-market auto buyers in sports or local news content can not only match the brand and response metrics of in-context advertising — it can exponentially exceed it. Case studies for advertisers like Mitsubishi have shown response lifts of 20 times. The same has been proven true in categories ranging from cosmetics to real estate to beverages to travel. Out-of-context ad placements are not only as good as in-context, most times they’re much better. Brand studies for consumer packaged goods brands like Snapple have shown awareness, favorability, and purchase intent lifts of 50 to 75 percent. Yet we need new creative that’s as flexible and appropriate as the placement. Great top-of-the-funnel automotive creative for out-of-context delivery in sports content will be very different than creative delivered adjacent to auto show content. Not only is this intuitive, it’s quite measurable as well.
  • Audience-centric creative. More brand, product, model, and price-specific creative should be developed. As we develop the ability to find and target audiences according to their actual or perceived preferences for particular brands, products, or price-tolerance, we need creative that takes advantage of user preferences. As e-commerce companies such as learned to modify page content based on what books or music your behavior indicates you might want to buy, we must learn how to modify creative formats and messaging according to an individual user’s perceived receptivity to a particular brand messages. We must learn how to not only get the right general advertising in front of the right audience at the right time, but how to deliver information and an experience that gets them excited, engages them, and is truly relevant to them. It’s no longer about merely delivering an automotive ad to an in-market auto buyer. It’s about understanding the “life stage” of an online audience. It’s about delivering a message of safety, security, and value to a family with children in-market for a Ford minivan or Volvo station wagon. Relying only on similar life-stage targeting on a major women’s content site, a leading import automaker increased brand favorability and purchase intent over 25 and 35 percent, respectively.
  • Audience rate cards. The best way to put behavioral targeting’s capabilities front and center with agencies, and get creative folks’ attention, is for ad sellers to structure their products to feature audience-centric programs. The best way to communicate this is by creating dedicated audience programs, giving them a dedicated spot on the rate card. The value of data is on the publisher side. There’s an opportunity to turn that data into premium value. Just as premium content programs command specific mention and prices on rate cards, so should premium audience programs. Just as business travel content has its own place on the rate card, so should “business travelers.” Giving audience value its due will also help focus special creative attention to such programs.

Finally, celebrate great creative. Nothing inspires great creative like great creative. Call attention to great work and give it the credit it deserves. When Web site owners and advertisers generate great results, they must talk about the data. Nothing will move us from a page-centric world to a people-centric world faster than great creative — and the measurement behind its performance.

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