Creative: Behavioral Targeting’s Essential Ingredient

Advertising, particularly online advertising, has evolved in recent years. Historically creative driven, the business is now something of a media-centric model. This is unsurprising to most of us. Advertising is increasingly more accountable as direct or brand response aggressively encroaches on the branding-dominant thinking of the past. Yet we must remember that though media can establish the most fertile environment in which to connect with consumers, it’s the creative that brings the messaging to life and closes the deal.

Interestingly, when it comes to behavioral targeting, creative rarely comes up in the discussion. We’re preoccupied, even mesmerized, with how the technology works. We seem infatuated with who’s doing what and who’s partnering with whom. We focus so much on the taxonomy of behavioral targeting landscape, our faith in its competence seems validated only by whether the campaign generates incremental lifts in results.

Tangled in daily data analyses and optimizations, media folks can easily forget creative is a critical ingredient for making a campaign work (I’ll be the first to admit I’m at fault in this regard). When performance isn’t up to par, we immediately think, “Maybe behavioral targeting doesn’t work for my client,” or, “This behavioral targeting vendor doesn’t have enough reach to justify the lackluster results.”

Sure, these thoughts can be valid. But it’s time media folks assume more responsibility to make behaviorally targeted campaigns work or work better. Creative is the essential ingredient in behaviorally targeted campaigns.

Audience-Specific Targeting Means Audience-Specific Creative

One of behavioral targeting’s promises is the ability to deliver audience-specific messaging, thus shifting the advertising paradigm from content to target based. Until now, marketers were infatuated with editorial adjacency (content based), stubbornly equating the premium cost of editorial association with perceived higher audience relevance.

Behavioral targeting deconstructs this old paradigm to establish a target-based model. It focuses on audience-specific ad delivery. If the whole concept of behavioral targeting is built on an elevated understanding of consumer psychographics and interests, the success of which is hinged upon a higher-relevance-equals-higher-conversions assumption, shouldn’t campaign creative reflect this specificity as well as achieve the ultimate relevance?

Regardless of the behavioral targeting objectives (branding, CRM, or remarketing), creative must be specifically tailored to the identified audience segment to provide the most optimal environment to yield optimal results. If an ISP advertiser wants to reach broadband users who are either price conscious or experienced online users, the creative should be uniquely tailored to speak to each audience and address their individual needs to increase advertising relevance.

It sounds so simple. Yet most of us forget this important ingredient when planning a behaviorally targeted campaign.

Include Those Third-Party Ad Servers!

Currently, most behavioral targeting exists in isolation from the actual ad serving. Most behavioral vendors focus solely on the targeting technology and rely on third-party ad servers (such as DoubleClick, Mediaplex, etc.) to physically serve creative to Web sites.

This creates something of an operations gap. Regardless of how effectively the front-end targeting filters audience data, the actual result is still dependent on whether the appropriate back-end creative is served to that audience.

Due to this current deficiency, media planners must ensure their audience-specific creative is appropriately implemented in the back-end ad serving and is operationally in sync with the front-end targeting. This presents a potentially lucrative business opportunity for behavioral vendors to expand their current targeting offers to advertisers if they can successfully partner with, or even acquire, ad-serving companies and bridge this gap.

What Does It Mean for Online Media?

Media and creative are like Batman and Robin. One can’t fully deliver without the help of the other. Behavioral targeting is no exception to the Gotham City rule.

An audience-focused approach to advertising requires audience-specific creative for optimal performance. If behavioral targeting’s bottom line is to increase advertising relevance, then nothing is more disappointing than a carefully planned, perfectly targeted banner containing irrelevant creative that addresses the wrong audience.

Behavioral targeting requires marrying ad serving to audience-based targeting to realize its full potential. A company such as aQuantive is strategically positioned to achieve this, with both Atlas DMT and DRIVEpm under its umbrella. It could provide integration between an ad-server and behavioral targeting technology.

Tacoda, Revenue Science, and other more technology-driven vendors should consider chatting with emerging ad-serving companies (such as Viewpoint, which recently made headlines with its Unicast acquisition) to explore a complete behavioral targeting solution for clients.

When planning your next behavioral targeting campaign, make sure you sync up the creative with the targeting. Without this essential ingredient in the recipe, even the most precisely targeted campaign will be as stale as last week’s leftovers.

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