Great Expectations in Behavioral Targeting

It’s 2008 and I’m in complete denial. I’m either still writing 2007 or already looking at plans for 2009. I guess there’s no such thing as living in the moment in advertising. Since it’s a new year, I’m providing my top expectations for the next 12 months.

  • You’ll see less behavioral targeting. Yes, you read that right. It’s not that the opportunities or vendors who offer behavioral targeting have decreased, but the effort involved in executing an effective campaign has dissuaded many publishers and advertisers. Let’s face it, behavioral targeting is tricky and it’s more complicated than contextual targeting. Therefore, many publishers and advertisers will opt for the simpler appeal of other types of targeting.
  • Search (specifically Google) will officially hop on the bandwagon. They just won’t call it behavioral targeting. Google experimented a bit in this space in 2007, but you’d only know about it if you read the trades. The targeting included segmenting consumers based on a series of their searches. For example, if a search session included searches for Italian recipes and later Disney World, an ad may be served for Italian restaurants in Disney World. Although in theory it sounded interesting, the schizophrenic nature in which consumers search may prove to be so convoluted that any relevant advertising may prove to be a bigger challenge than anticipated.
  • It won’t be called “behavioral targeting” anymore. Behavioral targeting by any other name would still be behavioral targeting, but not if you ask your vendors. Since it’s inception, behavioral targeting has received a bad rap. Perhaps anything with the word “behavior” in it will conjure up fears of people being observed (and God forbid, without their consent). Therefore, “new solutions” will be available and they’ll have fancy names that will make you wonder if you’ve lived through this before. (You have).
  • Behavioral targeting will finally get its day. Sure, we’ve all tried it as part of a buy or as a test, but in 2008 behavioral targeting may be the buy. As metrics and reporting continue to improve, advertisers will continue to introduce sophisticated measuring methods to evaluate performance, and whatever can be effectively measured will prevail. Although I believe the Internet can affect brand effectiveness, it’s still hard to get an objective assessment, especially with brand tracking studies inundating the market. Therefore, traditional direct response metrics will play an even bigger role and behavioral targeting as a strategy will be easier to evaluate and optimize.
  • Creative departments will jump on the bandwagon and wonder how they missed out. Sure, creative departments have at least heard the term “behavioral targeting” before, but they probably haven’t realized how dependent its success is on their work. In its practicality, behavioral targeting is an unspoken dialogue between an advertiser and a consumer and, therefore, relies on the right combination of messaging and placement. For creative people, this provides the opportunity to be flexible and prolific in their approach (and, of course, it’s all measurable).
  • Behavioral targeting will be used for research. There’s a tremendous amount of consumer information available as a result of behavioral targeting and publishers will begin to capitalize on this. For example, an automotive manufacturer can learn the top activities a prospect engages in before and after viewing its model pages. This information can be used for future planning and segmentation.
  • We’ll agree to disagree. There’s no ubiquities experience we can all draw upon, only a series of personal experiences, theories, and reflections we can act from. Therefore, there’ll be an advertiser who used behavioral targeting with one creative execution and it performed wonderfully, and another who used multiple executions and will claim that’s the holy grail. As long as there’s progress, we’re on the right track.

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