Targeting Ads to the Right Audience

Targeting the best audience for your banner ads is becoming easier as better and more accurate profile data become available. However, privacy issues can create challenges for publishers, advertisers, and the ad networks. We need to balance the advertiser’s need for information about the people viewing the ads with the public’s desire to maintain privacy.

It’s easier to buy ads through ad networks than to make many individual buys, but the need for highly accurate targeting makes some media buyers hesitant to take advantage of these opportunities. New concepts and technologies in gathering profile data are helping marketers target, research, and analyze their advertising, as well as address the privacy concerns of consumers viewing the ads.

It’s always better to show consumers ads for products of interest rather than those for products or services they’ll never buy. But knowing what a web user is interested in seeing – and hopefully, purchasing – is the tricky part.

In deciding whether to target an ad campaign through an advertising network, you may want to consider two questions: How does the network obtain interest profile data? And how valuable is the targeting it provides? DoubleClick made news recently by announcing plans to combine data based on its recent acquisition of direct marketer Abacus Direct. However, after considerable public protest, DoubleClick reversed itself and postponed plans to combine online and offline data.

Other ad networks, such as Engage, use anonymous profiling to target the online audience. By tracking the web sites people visit, Engage’s software infers the level of interest from the topics of those web sites. This means no individual personal information is stored, only the profile data associated with the cookie stored on the person’s computer.

GuestTrack recently conducted a marketing study of personalized email using InsightExpress, an online survey company that targets participants using Engage demographic profiles. A survey question designed to check the accuracy of this demographic data indicated it was right on target.

A new approach to gathering profile data for an ad network is to ask people to fill out a profile form, something web sites have been doing for a long time. Big Bang has just announced it can target banner ads based on demographic and lifestyle data obtained directly from people who answer questions about themselves.

Like MyPoints and other sites that reward consumers for providing profile data and responding to promotions, Big Bang awards points for participation. Consumers are encouraged to register because they receive points that can be redeemed for frequent flyer miles or selected products. Big Bang also awards points for visiting its partner web sites and additional points for clicking on ads.

It will be interesting to see how many people will fill out a profile form in order to see targeted ads, but one study indicated that most people will provide demographic data and an email address.

Ad networks obtain profile data in a number of different ways, so part of your evaluation of any network should be based on how profile data is obtained. In addition to traditional media-buying evaluation criteria such as CPM and editorial environment, three additional criteria should be considered when making a targeted ad buy using profile data:

  • Appropriateness: If you can identify certain demographic data as predictive of sales, and an ad network profiles those characteristics, targeted ads could improve the efficiency of the ad campaign.
  • Accuracy: Profile data calculated by inferred interest from tracking data has limitations, as does data obtained by self-report, but both can be useful.
  • Analysis: Reports are frequently available that compare the viewing, click-through, and sales activity by demographic, lifestyle, and interest profile data.

As the quality of online consumer profile data improves, whether that data is obtained by observation or with consumer participation, it’s likely we’ll see more use of targeting in online advertising. This will allow us to improve the value of targeted ads for both the consumer and the advertiser.

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