Behavioral Targeting Drives Automotive

Behavioral targeting was the buzz at this year’s J.D. Power Internet Automotive Roundtable in Las Vegas. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the automotive sector has been one of the top interactive spenders and first to embrace new technology. What’s surprising is the amount of confusion that still lies around the term “behavioral targeting.”

The consensus is that behavioral targeting is a good thing. It’s even begun to enter the vocabularies of dealer associations and dealers, which demonstrates its magnitude. Dennis Galbraith, senior director of Internet studies and marketing solutions at J.D. Power and Associates, was even asked about it during his opening speech. He encouraged advertisers to consider behavioral targeting as they develop their 2007 campaigns.

Yet, several issues arose during the Behavioral Targeting and the Automotive Shopper roundtable. I sat on the panel with Rory O’Connor, VP media director of Beyond Interactive (representing Volkswagen and Audi); David Harris, e-business and CRM manager of Suzuki Motor Corp.; and Mitch Lowe, CEO of Jumpstart Automotive Media, who moderated the panel. The three main issues revolved around lack of standardization, best practices, and methodologies.

Surprisingly, privacy concerns, which dominate most behavioral targeting discussions, weren’t mentioned, especially since the panel took place the day after the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) submitted their request to the FTC for the investigation of online ad practices that “threaten consumer privacy.”

The automotive industry doesn’t tend to be driven by fear, especially when the fear is around a topic few understand. However, we did discuss the lack of development around behavioral targeting since its inception. The number of publishers offering it has certainly grown, but so has the confusion about what they’re actually offering. So, let’s review the basics.

Behavioral targeting is an advertising methodology in which an advertiser’s message is shown to consumers based on previous actions they’ve taken, particularly the sites they’ve visited and the actions they’ve taken on these sites. There are several behavioral targeting products on the market for reaching automotive intenders. The most popular ones are:

  • Focused targeting against an auto intender: Targeting a consumer who has visited a specific make, model, or category.
  • General targeting against an auto intender: Targeting a consumer who has visited an auto site or an auto section (not specific to any model).
  • Retargeting or remessaging: Serving ads to consumers who have visited an advertiser’s site but left before completing a specific action.
  • Keyword targeting: Serving ads to consumers who have searched for a specific word or term.
  • Adware: Displaying ads in a software interface based on information it collects from the user’s browsing patterns. This targeting, a form of spyware, has been met with lots of controversy.

The starting point for publishers and marketers is to understand the form of behavioral targeting being offered. Next, you must understand the tracking mechanisms to be set up to measure a campaign’s objectives. And finally, you must develop best practices so advertisers aren’t starting from zero each time.

We also discussed the role of each partner — publisher, agency, and marketer. The consensus is everyone is responsible for a successful campaign. However, the publishers who own, control, and sell the data must make themselves accountable for not only streamlining the buying process but also assisting with the implementation and tracking. This goes beyond just putting banners on a site. After years of offering behavioral targeting, most sites are still hard pressed to tell advertisers what works best, even at the simplest level of frequency.

Finally, we looked into our crystal balls. We’re hoping customization will play a bigger role in 2007. An overseas delivery program, for example, should target consumers who not only visited a certain make and model page but also demonstrated an interest in traveling to a certain region. Customization is the next step in marrying the theoretical benefits of behavioral targeting to the pragmatic ones.

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