Standardization: Behavioral Targeting’s Weakness

Every year, I endure a certain amount of chaos so we can have Thanksgiving dinner as one happy family. And every year, I’m amazed by the amount of work it takes to prepare for what turns out to be an hour-long meal, at best. This year was no different.

In some ways, online media is like a Thanksgiving meal. Whether it’s a large or small campaign, there’s a certain amount of work that goes into it that can’t, and shouldn’t, be avoided. Just look at how many ad units your production team had to create or how many times you had to combine multiple reports into one. Admittedly, vendors in our space have been working hard for the past few years to help streamline the process. Tools such as DoubleClick’s MediaVisor and Motif have helped to a certain extent. But we still have a long way to go before the planning process is as efficient as the buy.

Thus, even with more publishers partnering with behavioral marketing vendors, two things remain true about behavior-based targeting. First, the major benefit of behavioral targeting is the ability to purchase desired behavioral segments when valued content placements are no longer available or if an advertiser wants to have incremental reach across a specific segment. And second, the major weakness is still standardization. Some dedicated people are working hard to make standardization a reality, but I wonder whether it’s possible to view behavioral targeting as a major media tactic instead of one that serves a complementary role.

Behavioral targeting is still sitting at the kiddy table. When it comes to online media tactics, it’s still more buzz than anything else. But when standardization becomes more widespread, it’ll provide a major new benefit: We can streamline the media buying process by purchasing placements across an ad network. This wouldn’t apply to all buys, but it does offer a certain level of flexibility to purchase specific segments across a network at a lower CPM (define) with high reach when time or budget becomes a major issue.

Standardization would also provide advertisers with an opportunity to heavy-up on a campaign that’s already in place across the big three (AOL, MSN, and Yahoo) and the large branded sites. Truth be told, I’m weary of purchasing buys across ad networks. Audience segments coming from a network are inherently less beneficial and less desirable for an advertiser’s brand compared to segments from premium branded placements. Though that may always be the case, standardization will add a certain level of trust that some media buyers don’t have when purchasing on an ad network.

Case in point, early adapters such as Burst! Media have already signed up with behavioral vendors. Behavioral marketers such as 24/7 Real Media and Tacoda Systems have started to build out their own ad networks that will deliver quality audience segments. Even AOL took the initial step this year of purchasing Advertising.com to take advantage of its behavioral targeting capabilities. It’s just a matter of time before we see that capability being extended to the AOL brands.

Yes, behavioral targeting was firmly seated at the kid’s table this year. But next year, it just might sit with the adults.

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