Behavioral Targeting: Quality or Quantity?

Last weekend, I ate at a friend’s house. Conversation centered on food, particularly about the documentary, “Super Size Me.” For those unfamiliar with the movie, it’s about a man who eats nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Meals were super-sized whenever a McDonald’s employee asked the protagonist if he preferred that option.

Though I haven’t seen the movie, it seems to be about the personal struggle between quality and quantity. Too much of something is bad for you. Too little of something leaves you wanting more.

This same issue plagues behavioral targeting. Do we have quality or quantity? Both? Neither? Will behavioral targeting approach McDonald’s super-sized meal proportions, offering enough quantity to please, some but sadly lacking in desired quality?

Why Ask?

The current crop of ad networks that utilize behavioral targeting can reach up to 80 percent of all online users, and drill down to the most targeted segments. So the abilities to scale up and down, and to target the audience based on quality, do exist. It could be that vendors sitting on both sides of the fence can have a happy coexistence.

However several weeks ago, a major publisher told me on his site, a number of his audience members fall into a surprisingly high number of multiple behavioral segments. That is, someone who falls into the finance segment could also fall into the automotive and travel segments.

If users fall into multiple segments, am I really purchasing a finance segment? Or am I purchasing an automotive segment without knowing it? Am I purchasing nothing more than glorified run-of-site (ROS) placements at a higher cost than my generic ROS placements? Certainly, users can fall under multiple segments. But when does that number become too many?

What’s the Solution?

Currently, there are too many solutions to this problem. Vendors on both sides of the argument have dug in and are waiting for the other side to retreat. The situation could remain this way for many years. No one really knows which standard will become de facto. In all likelihood, only one or two vendors will become the major players in the behavioral arena; even then, the issue of standards may never be fully resolved.

The ideal situation would include both quality and quantity, enabling the marketer to reach the right behavior. Quality would eliminate waste that might occur so audiences don’t necessarily fall into multiple behavioral categories. Utilizing page-based criteria standards, meanwhile, will allow for instant scalability without the need to sacrifice quality.

If users can fall under so many different categories, can they fall into any category at all? Behavioral targeting is an initial step toward the ultimate one-to-one marketing we strive towards. Yet if we can’t get it right when with the quality/quantity issue, will we ever get it right?

Vendors such as Revenue Science, Tacoda Systems, Claria, and 24/7 Real Media have their work cut out for them. They must determine what’s really important when it comes to behavioral targeting. Is it quality, quantity, or both? Personally, I believe you can’t have one without the other.

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