The Downfall of Targeting

Are advertisers using the Internet, the mega targeting vehicle, as less than a targeting platform?

My perspective comes from being a media professional and a consumer. Let me explain.

I’ve spent the last several months watching unprecedented amounts of money being transferred from other media to the Internet to be invested quickly and to run in short flights. I guess our hailing the Internet as a quick turnaround vehicle has finally made its way to our clients’ ears and they’re putting us to the test. This, of course, is good news, except investing loads of money quickly and wisely isn’t always easy (unless it’s in our paychecks, of course). And with the current rise in the interactive profession, much of this money is being invested by planners who are still fairly new at interactive media planning.

Therefore, planners are turning to easy, one-step solutions, like purchasing on ad networks or portals or purchasing remnant inventory. And vendors are selling it as turnkey as possible. I recently asked for a proposal that included behavioral targeting and demonstrated the various stages where messaging can be introduced. For example, prospects are exposed to a message in environment A; later, they’re exposed to a second message in environment B that builds on the previous exposure. This pattern continues until the prospect is no longer a viable lead. I thought the request was simple enough, except of 30 proposals, none of them reflected my request. Instead, I received numerous proposals that included the line item: “behavioral targeting against (the target audience).” Mission not accomplished.

If there’s limited inventory available in targeted contextual placements and we’ve been touting behavioral targeting as the solution to this, are we really doing justice to our proclamation? The infiltration of dollars into the Internet has actually hurt the targeting cause. If sellers will get the buy and agencies will get paid, what’s the incentive in creating better targeted campaigns that live up to our expectations?

Perhaps the solution is to turn down proposals and dollars that don’t measure up to our ideals. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard vendors say, “This is what everyone buys!” to a proposal that’s less than ideal. And they’re right. If we all agree to these packages, what compels vendors to submit anything different?

Finding myself on the verge of a major life event (pregnant with twins) and on bed rest the last few weeks, the Internet has been my life support. Hungry for any special offers and information I can find on supporting my upcoming brood has been my daily pastime. Strangely, though, the marketers haven’t followed. I figured every ad I’d see from here on out would include baby products. Instead, I’ve been inundated with online dating, soft drinks, and travel. Unless I have an alter ego, I’m not sure what behavior would suggest that these are the right offers for me. I actually want the coupons and product recommendations (are you listening, Huggies?). No wonder consumers say they ignore online advertising. They feel completely disconnected from it.

As money continues to pour into online advertising, we have a responsibility to invest it properly. That means turning away proposals and budgets that don’t fit our vision. Clients don’t fire agencies that wisely invest their money; they fire agencies that invest their money without regard to the bigger picture and take the easy way out. Shortcut solutions will always be available and may seem like the only option in the short term. However, think about the longer-term affects. And above all, think about consumers. What is their experience like? What are they looking for? What do they need us to tell them at this specific time and this specific place? And if it doesn’t fit, then don’t buy it, just as you wouldn’t buy a size 2 if you’re really a size 10. No matter what the seller says.

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