Setting Behavioral Targeting Standards, Part 2

Part one of this series examined the eventual need for standards and best practices in behaviorally targeted online advertising products.

Today, the focus is on potential standards for capturing and using behavioral targeting campaign data. This area is sure to be the center of considerable attention and a certain degree of controversy. This hypothetical example explains why.

Publisher A sold a targeted ad campaign to Agency B, representing Client C, who wants to promote Myrtle Beach vacation packages to male golfers in the northeastern U.S. Myrtle Beach is something of a mecca each spring for that target audience.

Publisher A can deliver to this audience with precision. It has a registered user database containing gender and Zip Code, and it uses behavioral targeting tools to compile all individuals who have consumed golf content on the site into an audience segment of golfers. Because Publisher A is a well-known brand with quality content, it can command a $75 CPM for this very targeted buy, not unusual when delivering such a precise, high-value target audience.

The campaign started, and the creative units (matching banners and skyscrapers) were served up just like most targeted campaigns are. Ad Server A (the ad-serving vendor for Publisher A) served a “redirect” that called Agency B’s ad-serving vendor (Ad Server B) every time a user on Publisher A’s site met the campaign targeting requirements (male, golfer, Northeastern U.S. Zip Code). Ad Server A received the targeting instructions from Publisher A’s behavioral targeting vendor, Targeter A. The agency and client, wanting to ensure they had different offers for existing customers, used their own behavioral targeting vendor, Targeter B, to deliver different creative to people who had already visited the client’s Web site at least once before.

In addition, both the publisher and client have Web page analytic vendors, Analytics A and Analytics B, tracking certain events. The publisher tracks its entire audience for internal metrics needs. The client tracks all users exposed to its advertising campaigns to tie those audiences back to its eCRM system.

Yes, it really can be this complicated!

Now comes the really scary part. Every one of those companies is sitting on valuable and actionable consumer data as a result of their participation in the campaign. How?

Redirects, pixels, cookies, and databases are how these companies execute and coordinate their roles in the process. All made a direct HTTP connection to the users’ browsers. They each delivered pixel tags embedded in the page or banners. They each placed one or more unique, persistent cookies on users’ browsers. And each stored the user interaction data in their various databases, potentially including all the targeting criteria for the campaign and whether the user clicked on the ad.

Now, hard questions arise. Who owns the data? What can each party do with it? And what should they do with it?

On the ownership front, those issues are generally addressed (or not) by the contracts between the various parties. Potential uses are generally governed by the contracts between the parties, the terms and conditions of the insertion order, and state and federal laws and regulations governing consumer data usage and privacy.

Standards and best practices will be sorely needed with regard the last question: What should these companies do — or not do — with the campaign data?

Should Agency B reuse the data for the targeting efforts of another client, Client D, that wants to reach northeastern males, perhaps a male fragrance company?

Should Publisher A reuse this data by selling “travel clickers” (users who clicked on travel offers, including Client A’s campaign) to Client E, an airline?

Should Client C reuse this data to reach the same northeastern male golfers that were identified and targeted on Publisher A’s site, where the CPMs are quite high, on a large portal site, Publisher B, where the client only has to pay a $1 CPM and can use “retargeting” technology to only deliver messages to those users bought on Publisher A with Publisher A’s data?

Should Ad Servers A and B reuse this data to build their own proprietary databases of “males” or “clickers” or geotargeted audiences they can sell to any publisher or agency wanting to add targeting to their own campaigns?

Should Targeter A and Targeter B reuse the data to build their own proprietary databases and segments of “males” or “clickers” or “people who look like golfers” to resell to other publishers, agencies, or clients?

Should Analytics A and Analytics B reuse the data to build their own proprietary targeting databases or segments to use in fielding research surveys they then sell to other publishers or clients?

All the above examples are technically possible. Many are legal. But should they be allowed?

What do you think? Send me your thoughts, opinions, or pet peeves on this issue.

What are your proposed industry standards and best practices for this area? That’s the subject of part three.

Nominations are open for the 2004 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards.

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