Time for More Targeted Advertising?

Media buyers are always on the lookout for new ways to target a desired online audience. We’ll try almost anything to get to that elusive Internet user who fits our client’s criteria to a T, whether it’s the office manager with purchasing power or the stay-at-home mom who decides which products her family buys. We’ve targeted by country, state/province, city, area code, SIC code, browser, operating system, and day of week. And that’s doesn’t include targeting based on psychographic criteria.

In the last year or so, media buyers have been given the opportunity to target by time of day. The concept comes from broadcast advertising, where, to facilitate communication with different audience segments, ad space is sold (and priced) in accordance with various blocks of time throughout each day (such as the prime-time television-watching hours, 8 to 11 pm EST).

Offline, these blocks are called “dayparts,” a term the online community has been quick to adopt. It’s something to get excited about, not only because it allows advertisers another method to zero in on their ideal online audience, but also because it permits companies for which online advertising wasn’t feasible or logical to get in on the action.

Daypart targeting allows companies that take orders via call centers to rule out the danger of a customer seeing an ad at a time when the phones aren’t manned. It allows infomercial advertisers to support offline ads with simultaneous online banners for valuable cross-media penetration. If recent reports indicating a growing number of consumers watch TV and surf the Net at the same time hold water, an advertiser with a ubiquitous on-air/online presence is in a good position indeed.

A number of online media properties offer a daypart advertising model on their sites: CBS MarketWatch, NYTimes.com, Yahoo, and a handful of ad networks. Now AOL Time Warner’s America Online has jumped on the bandwagon, announcing it, too, will provide advertisers with this ad-delivery method.

These companies aren’t offering daypart buys just to entice businesses that haven’t advertised online before. Companies still aren’t spending online anywhere near what they’re pumping into offline advertising. Publishers are continually driven to find new ways to extract a larger portion of advertisers’ overall marketing budgets. The more targeting specifications available to an online campaign, the more a publisher can charge. At a time when competition for advertisers is fierce and media buyers negotiate without mercy, any excuse to charge a high cost-per-thousand ad rate is welcome.

As self-serving as publishers’ intentions may be, an expansion of daypart-based online media bodes well for the future of our industry. A handicap we’ve struggled with since the beginning is the alienating effect unique online pricing models and methods of targeting have had on traditional advertisers. To many of them, online advertising still seems alien and unpredictable. A familiar concept such as dayparts could raise our stock in the eyes of traditional advertisers. That means more business for media buyers and agencies.

That this new method of online audience targeting will change how media buyers plan campaigns and purchase media is self-evident. It’s sure to affect all aspects of campaigns. Consider the design of a client’s ad creative. We’re often forced to enhance targeting abilities by customizing ads accordingly. The need for such tactics is now reduced. Instead of asking a fast-food chain’s target audience if they’re hungry and hoping the images in our ads will awaken their appetites, we can deliver them at lunchtime and increase our chances of getting them to bite. With such capabilities, no wonder big-name advertisers are testing dayparts.

Although the benefits of this delivery model are abundant, one has to wonder what consumers think of it all. We already know untargeted, mass-market advertising irritates them. Does that mean they’ll embrace this new development in ad technology? Will they be pleased by McDonald’s friendly reminder that it’s to grab some lunch? Or will the company’s uncanny ability to know their bellies are grumbling trigger their Big Brother radar and make them feel, again, their online privacy is being invaded?

For media buyers, the time for adopting more targeting methods of advertising is always now. Let’s hope Internet users feel the same way.

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