Fishing for a Broader Audience?

I’ve talked a lot about online targeting, focusing on advantages and disadvantages of pursuing consumers through demographic profiles versus customizing creative to target potential customers in more unexpected places. Surf the Web any given day, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the nature of the divide. Some advertisers value demographic targeting to an obsessive degree; others recognize the value of standing out from the crowd. The latter’s campaigns regularly prove to be the most interesting.

Before you flood my inbox with email pointing out untargeted campaigns are the online equivalent of spam and contribute to the incessant clutter that’s made advertisers such as X10 reviled household names, allow me to clarify. There are varying degrees of targeting in online advertising. Advertisers can dive as deeply into demographic profiles as they see fit. When developing a new campaign, advertisers and marketers employ any number of demographic criteria to determine the best placements for the product advertised. Factors such as gender, location, age, occupation, and interests all affect the decision-making process when we create and launch ads for a highly specified group of users.

Then, there’s the slightly less contrived approach. Rather than honing in on a restricted group of consumers, some advertisers choose to place ads on sites and in sections appealing to a broader audience, targeting through their ad message and creative design.

In casting a wider net, these advertisers believe they expand their potential customer base. They reach consumers who may not otherwise have been exposed to their products. Releasing ads into the online universe without a precise targeting strategy is a little like fishing. Advertisers need the right bait (not to mention a little luck) to reel in the desired catch.

The increasing popularity of this unconventional approach struck me a few weeks ago when I was speaking to an account executive from a lifestyle-oriented multimedia company with broadcast and online departments. The rep cited a campaign his organization developed for Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine. The campaign, including TV and online components, involved a series of 30-second vignettes featuring the cultivated celebrity host of one of the company’s decorating and entertaining programs. In each ad, the host volunteered a unique tip to impress household guests. His spiel was followed by the advertiser’s message: “This good-taste tip was brought to you by Lean Cuisine.”

What enthralled me about the campaign wasn’t the message itself, but the advertiser’s creativity and foresight. In considering that product, most marketers would opt for a spot on one of the broadcaster’s many health-conscious cooking programs. That’s the safe, obvious choice for a brand that flaunts the slogan, “It’s not just lean, it’s cuisine.” This advertiser had different ideas. “They wanted a different environment,” said a company account executive, “a different reach.” So they bucked tradition and developed an original, memorable campaign.

Lean Cuisine’s brand managers made the right choice. This approach won’t work for every online advertiser, however. To capitalize on the opportunity for broader consumer reach, your product must be of interest to a wide audience in the first place. At the end of the day, you’re asking consumers to make a purchase. The more your product appeals to the masses, the greater your chances for success.

If you attempt this advertising method, remember a little shallow targeting won’t hurt, either. Don’t sabotage your brand by positioning yourself in front of an audience with no need or desire for your product. You wouldn’t advertise a new hair color on a site catering predominantly to men. But a placement on iVillage’s diet and fitness section might be just the ticket to attract women interested in revamping their image.

As an bonus, you’re not likely to encounter many competitors with such placements. It isn’t an obvious choice, but it’s an approach that deserves consideration and testing. It could just produce results you, and your not-too targeted audience, won’t soon forget.

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