Behavioral Problems

I recently met a planner who was adamant he wouldn’t recommend behavioral targeting again because of the time investment entailed.

“I’m just not sure all the hassle is worth it,” he said.

It’s true that for behavioral targeting to work well it requires a level of attention, especially in the beginning, that may seem unmanageable. The platform is in development and requires the planner to wear multiple hats: media, creative, and technology. Therefore, whether you’ve been recommending behavioral targeting for a while or are just beginning your journey, here are a few challenges you’re bound to face.

It’s Still New

Although “behavioral targeting” entered our vocabulary a few years ago, it’s only recently taken off. Smarter technology, tighter inventory, and bigger budgets are a few reasons. Contextual inventory is limited. And with more marketers moving money into online, contextual placements are selling out first. Therefore, behavioral targeting has become the solution to “what do we do with the rest of the money?”

The automotive sector is a great example. Automotive is the first category to have an online upfront, in which automotive advertisers secure inventory on automotive sites six months to a year in advance. There are three main components advertisers typically bid on:

  • Retention: Manufacturer’s model pages
  • Conquest: Manufacturer’s competitors’ pages
  • Sponsorship: Sponsorships of appropriate sections

Since most manufacturers purchase 100 percent of their retention pages, limited inventory remains for conquest. As a result, automotive sites like and Yahoo Autos offer behavioral targeting as an alternative. Without behavioral targeting, retention and sponsorship are the mainstays of future upfront campaigns.

It’s Confusing

Let’s admit it, there are a lot of players in this space. Each has its own rules. There are the software companies that empower behavioral targeting, and there are publishers that sell it either exclusively or as a part of a larger buy. For each partner, there is a different set of rules and capabilities (and everyone’s way is the best way). Throw remarketing into the mix, and you have a hodgepodge of items to contend with.

If you tell your client you recommend a leaderboard in the arthritis section of Yahoo Health, you probably won’t need to do too much explaining. However, if you recommend Yahoo’s Fusion or Impulse solutions, the conversation will take longer. And once you’re done explaining, you’ll need to explain why the next publisher doesn’t handle behavioral targeting the same way.

Clients Are Afraid

There are still clients that interpret behavioral targeting as “big brother.” The truth is if the advertising is done in a tasteful manner, it’s no different than a contextual placement or an incentive offer (e.g., coupon on your receipt at the supermarket), which are also forms of behavioral targeting.

Furthermore, consumers aren’t usually aware they’re being targeted, because they’re accustomed to seeing relevant ads. They’re much more likely to question an advertisement that has nothing to do with their current interests and, therefore, seems out of place, or if it’s addressing a private matter, such as a sensitive health issue.

If you have clients that are still adamantly against behavioral targeting, alleviate their worries by presenting them with a plan for frequency and creative control. Publishers may also have studies and results that pacify apprehensions, perhaps even throwing in a brand study or questionnaire to gauge consumer perceptions.

It Takes Coordination

Unlike placing a leaderboard, behavioral targeting takes coordination. Not only do account, project, and creative need to understand the implications, but the client must coordinate with its Webmaster and internal teams. Publishers may also need to be part of the discussion, especially when it comes to placing unique tags for remarketing or providing recommendations for best practices and optimization.

It’s Fallible

It takes time to identify the best solutions for a client. After years of our selling the idea of real-time optimization online, clients are eager to bail (and never try it again) if something doesn’t immediately perform. This presents a problem for behavioral targeting because it takes time to understand the best combination of messaging, frequency, and response.

To further complicate matters, there’s a fallacy that behavioral targeting is less expensive than other types of placements. In reality, behavioral targeting may cost as much as, if not more than, contextual placements because of the premium targeting capability and frequency. In addition, multiple creative units may increase the overall production investment. Therefore, planning cost-efficiencies shouldn’t be the argument for incorporating behavioral targeting into a campaign. If it is, you risk having a client wanting to bail even sooner. However, if you stick to solid, realistic ROI (define) metrics you’re much more likely to end up with a patient, well-informed client.

Related reading