Don’t Believe the Hype — It’s Just Targeting

It’s great to see the industry abuzz about a new phenomenon. In the case of behavioral targeting, it’s something that promises to bring value to both publishers and advertisers. But as with every red-hot “next big thing,” everyone seems to want to jump on the bandwagon. Between these “me too” players and the variety of offerings out there, there’s growing confusion about what behavioral targeting actually is — and what it’s supposed to do.

Branding or Direct Response?

For publishers, behavioral targeting seems to be a way of handling advertiser requests for sold-out inventory. If you can’t get someone when they’re in the travel section, at least you can target the ad to a frequent visitor to that section. Since this inventory is typically sold on a CPM basis, it’s touted as a way to reach the right audience with your branding message.

There’s some evidence for the branding efficacy of behavioral targeting. A Dynamic Logic study conducted for an American Airlines campaign on the Wall Street Journal Online found improvement across all the brand metrics measured. A similar study conducted for a Snapple campaign on iVillage found that visitors behaviorally targeted outside the core content area had significantly higher scores compared to those exposed within the channel for aided brand awareness (76 percent versus 66 percent); online ad awareness (51 percent versus 33 percent); brand favorability (36 percent versus 21 percent); and purchase intent (37 percent versus 29 percent).

Other players adopting the “behavioral targeting” moniker have completely different aims in mind. I had a chance this week to visit the folks at aQuantive in their Seattle headquarters. The company’s main behavioral initiative is housed in a unit known as DrivePM, which stands for Drive Performance Media. Performance, of course, is a not-so-secret code word for direct response. The unit does, in fact, sell a media on a cost-per-action basis (though it does CPM, as well). Meanwhile, there’s Advertising.com. Their recent acquisition by America Online was hailed by some as a means for the portal to get into the behavioral targeting space for its cost-per-click inventory. Desktop players like Claria and WhenU mostly tout gains in response (i.e. click-through).

The Network Model

Emerging behavioral networks like Tacoda’s, AlmondNet’s and 24/7 Real Media’s only confuse things further. Though Tacoda’s best known for its products for publishers — who primarily sell on a CPM basis — its new network, AudienceMatch, will sell on CPC. Is behavioral really just a pre-optimization targeting scheme, to be paired with click-based optimization on the back end? What about advertisers who want branding with scale? Must they go to the portals?

Types of Data

I’m also finding is that the term “behavioral” isn’t strictly used to describe targeting based upon a user’s behavior. AQuantive’s DrivePM is touted as the company’s behavioral unit, but it targets on everything from user behavior to Claritas PRIZM segments like “Urban Uptown” or “Landed Gentry”. Most publishers I talk with use a whole lot more than just user behavior to target ads. In many cases — because they have user registration data — they can use everything from geography to gender to Zip code to user connection speed. Is that behavioral? Nope. It’s just targeting.

It’s tempting to adopt the behavioral moniker because it’s the new new thing. But anything that may confuse potential advertisers — and agency folks are just barely dipping their toes into the waters — isn’t helpful to the industry as a whole.

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