The Internet Can Do Everything… But We Can’t

When it comes to ad targeting potential: placing specifically the right message or offer in front of the right person at the right time, the Internet is the medium of choice.

Matching ads to the correct audience is important because relevant ads are proven to be the ones most likely to be noticed, understood, and responded to and the ones least likely to annoy.

The Internet has a couple of special advantages in this area, particularly the potential to provide rich data on how users interact with content, advertising, and the dynamic nature of the medium itself.

These properties allow advertising to be targeted based on audience demographic characteristics, dayparts or days of week, geography, context, user permission, segmented user behavior, and so on.

But, this strength is also a weakness.

The wisest media client I know summed it up this way: “David, the Internet can do everything… but we can’t.”

Interest but Not Activity

The sentiment is reflected in a recently updated Forrester Research report, “Interactive Marketing Channels to Watch in 2006.”

In interviews with over 250 senior marketing professionals, the study found although interest in new media forms, such as blogs, social networks, RSS (define), podcasting, and video games is high, many marketers don’t have plans to use them for advertising in 2006.

The reluctance is attributed to marketers’ ongoing focus on effectiveness and to their sticking with tried-and-true tactics, such as search, email, and targeted advertising.

The report’s principle author, Shar VonBoskirk, put it this way to Adweek, “There’s curiosity but not a lot of activity… At this point, [marketers are not] ready or don’t have the resources or haven’t thought through it works for their business.”

In other words, data-driven and results-oriented tactics that have already proven efficient continue to enjoy the larger part of marketers’ time and investment.

Ad targeting was identified as a priority with those surveyed, and behavioral targeting came out on top as the ad targeting technology that marketers are most interested in testing this year.

Good News for Behavorial Targeting, Right?

This isn’t necessarily good news for behavioral targeting, because the emphasis is on effectiveness. Expectations will be high.

Comparative benchmarks will be the best-performing tactics, such as search and email, not standard run-of-site (ROS) banners.

With higher-involvement content that’s more participatory and less quality controlled (“YouTube-ification” of content), even ads that are highly targeted to user interests may not play well, or even be noticed.

That’s assuming advertisers with valuable brands are even willing to run ads on the likes of YouTube, given potential problems with adjacency to potentially any type or quality of video content.

This problem isn’t a new as far as behavioral targeting is concerned. Some have even tried to make it an advantage, arguing an unexpected relevant ad not aligned with its context may have a clutter-clearing surprise factor that gets it noticed.

However, new advertisers testing behavioral targeting aren’t looking to measure astonishment; they’re looking to measure awareness, consideration, preference, intent to purchase, post-click or post–impression sales, and so on.

All that said, the fact online marketers have more intent to try behavioral marketing tactics has its obvious upsides, of course. They include new sources of revenue for media companies and technology providers, potentially increased online media budgets, ads that are more relevant for consumers, and so on.


Ignoring the rapid changes in the media landscape enabled by technology means being left behind. Hesitating means missing an opportunity to stay abreast of consumers.

Yet going too far in the other direction means diverting investment away from other tactics that are already proven successful. Potentially, it also means reduced return on media investment.

One way Forrester Research counsels marketers to manage this complexity is to form what it calls a channel innovation team. To me, this just means organizing your people and approach in such a way that they’re focused on learning new things and have the bandwidth to get involved in emerging channels.

Makes a whole lot of sense to me.

My response to the wise media client I mentioned earlier was quite similar. I told him, “Test before you invest. Set an agenda for testing that prioritizes what’s most important for your brand and advertising messages. Ad targeting technologies, especially behavioral targeting, are best understood by in-market experience.”

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