May We Suggest…More Relevant Ads

When digital advertising is well executed, it can be incredibly effective. More often than not, its ability to perform is directly related to its relevance to the consumer.

It’s for this reason that contextual advertising and behavioral targeting have grown in popularity. A recent study found ads that are behaviorally targeted are more than twice as effective at converting users who click into actual buyers – and it’s no wonder. Think of it from the consumer’s point of view; as you expose yourself to digital media, which ads are you most likely to recall? Which are most apt to incite a response? You’ll probably find the ads you notice most are those that offer something similar to what you’ve already indicated – whether by way of your surfing habits or purchasing history – that you care about and enjoy.

It’s all about the power of suggestion.

In the world of online publishing, companies like Amazon have mastered this technique through the use of its item-to-item collaborative filtering practices, and recommendation algorithm. Through its site and any related e-mail newsletters you’ve opted in to receive, Amazon suggests products based on your previous search patterns. These are delivered under headlines such as, “More items to consider,” “Related to items you’ve viewed,” “Recommended for you,” and “Inspired by your shopping trends.” Searches for a particular book that occurred a few days ago or even a few months ago might prompt suggestions for books with a similar theme, style, or works by the same author.

Many other publishers and Internet-based businesses have applied similar technology to generate purchases or improve the user experience. Pandora revolutionized Internet radio with its Music Genome Project and “music discovery” service, while Netflix routinely suggests titles similar to those users have added to their DVD queue.

This concept can be equally powerful when applied to online advertising, and companies like Facebook are leveraging it. With interest-targeted Social Ads, Facebook advertisers can base their campaigns on keywords for products or services similar to their own. When these keywords appear in a Facebook user’s profile, that user can receive an ad suggesting a comparable item. For instance, an entertainment company eager to promote the latest Bruce Willis movie on DVD could target Facebook users who have listed other Willis movies of a similar genre – “Die Hard” or “The Fifth Element” – among their favorites. These consumers would receive an ad with a message that read, “Fans of ‘The Fifth Element’ will love ‘Surrogates,’ buy it on DVD today.” Here’s an example in the Facebook ad below:

It’s psychographic ad relevance at its most brazen; the advertiser makes no qualms about the fact that she’s targeting based on the user’s personal interests, but it isn’t for her advantage alone; the consumer also benefits by receiving a more customized and relevant advertising experience.

Even more brazen, perhaps, are those campaigns that use competitors’ keywords to achieve the same effect. Most advertisers bid on competing brand and product names in their paid search campaigns, and that’s perfectly fine (as long as you refrain from mentioning registered trademarks within the ad copy, or stating that your product is superior without a competitive analysis to back it up). As a result, countless consumers see the search equivalent of online conquesting – and get more suggestions for products and services that, based on their online research behavior, they may like.

Search Google for “Audi A4” and you’ll get an ad for competing brand Infiniti that reads, “We invite you to compare Infiniti G Sedan to the Audi A4,” and an Acura ad that says, “Looking for an Audi A4? See how the feature-packed Acura TL measures up. Compare Today.” Because advertisers must respect Google’s stringent guidelines for bidding on competitors’ branded terms, it isn’t as easy to come right out and say, “We suggest you try our product instead.” But that doesn’t stop advertisers from doing it. Why? It works.

It stands to reason that the more information we have about the consumers we’re trying to reach, the more successful we can be at delivering relevant advertising. But there’s another side to this equation, and that’s inviting Internet users to take a more active roll in our industry by asking them to voluntarily optimize their own advertising. Next week, we’ll look at how Google and Facebook are giving their users the option to do just this, what this new generation of hand-raisers actually represents to digital media buyers, and how to address those consumers who don’t respond quite so favorably to interest-based ads.

Until then, watch for examples of companies that are approaching their target customers with promises of relevant products, and helping them to discover similar brands.

It’s just a suggestion.

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