Behavioral targeting is based on the simple premise that Web browsing behavior can be a strong predictor of receptivity to certain ad messages. (See iMedia's Behavioral Targeting 101 for a primer on the subject.) The strategy came into existence thanks to two discoveries by Web publishers: first, that they could track users' paths through various pages of content on their sites; second, that they wanted to sell more ad space.
Bennett Zucker, executive director of customer success for TACODA Systems, Inc., sums it up this way: "The best content on the Web is sold out already. But the same audience that [advertisers] are trying to reach in those sold-out sites is available in other sites and sections where they may not even have thought of looking."
In other words, it's a no-brainer, for example, for a car company to buy ad space in the automotive classified section of a newspaper site. But behavioral targeting allows that car company to deliver ads to that same audience once they've left the classified section and moved on to other content -- it's a matter of buying access to people, not pages. So even when ad space in the classified section isn't available, the target audience still is.
The need for standards
Because of the incredible diversity of the Web, getting advertisers and publishers to speak the same language about behavioral targeting isn't always easy. Some larger sites have developed their own in-house tools for serving ads based on users' past actions, and even smaller sites have come up with their own naming systems and methodologies to court advertisers. In traditional offline advertising terms, "imagine if you had to negotiate with each individual radio station about the definition of 'Males 18 to 34,'" says one online media buyer. "It's a mess."
In an effort to start cleaning up the mess, two of the biggest players in the behavioral targeting space have announced new segmenting standards: TACODA Systems' TACODA Targets and Revenue Science's Audience Quality Certification(TM).
TACODA aims for the bullseye
The purpose of the Targets, according to TACODA's Zucker, is to "create a baseline standard that at least puts everybody into the game … The bottom line is, [advertisers] want an easier process. Interactive buying, planning and execution is hard enough" without having to navigate each site's system of idiosyncratic naming standards. TACODA Targets simplifies things with 22 initial groups, including Job Seekers, Auto Buyers, Sports Fans and other common-sense behavioral categories with broad appeal to advertisers.
Segments are defined by recency and frequency of visits to specific content areas. Potential segment definitions are tested to find the lowest threshold at which the definition still holds value to advertisers -- if a site user who browses certain content once in thirty days performs just as well as one who visited three times in 15 days, then both are included. The idea, says Zucker, is to reach the intersection of "the response that the advertiser needs and the CPM that the advertiser is willing to pay," while making sure that the time and effort of advertising to the segment doesn't become too small to be worthwhile.
Revenue Science: quality is key
Revenue Science's main objective is not ease of use so much as a comparison of the relative value of different audience segments. In conjunction with Nielsen//NetRatings, Revenue Science is developing a new standard using data collected from individual sites and from the widely-accepted data from Nielsen's Mega Panel(TM). The Mega Panel is comprised of several hundred thousand online households who provide Nielsen with comprehensive behavioral and demographic data. (To ease privacy concerns, all personally identifying information remains with Nielsen and is only delivered in aggregate to Revenue Science.)
The advantage of using Nielsen data, according to Omar Tawakol, senior vice president of marketing at Revenue Science, is that "it's so familiar to what [advertisers] do. We're using something they trust and are familiar with, and they don't have to change their core practices." Revenue Science uses Web-wide behavior, not just the click stream on a particular site, to give each segment a numerical composition rating (i.e. "quality level"), which is updated monthly. Such a rating "allows advertisers to make an apples-to-apples comparison of the audiences that they actually get, and allows publishers to price based on audience value," says Director of Marketing Marla Schimke.
Keeping it simple: stupid?
Since the appeal of behavioral targeting is the ability to pare the audience down to only those consumers who might be interested in your message, should we worry about standardization blunting the knife? Won't cookie-cutter segment definitions result in less specifically targeted ads?
Alan Chapell, president of data collection consultancy Chapell & Associates, doesn't see cause for concern. To the contrary, he says, new standards will attract more advertisers to behavioral targeting, resulting in more relevant advertising -- and less clutter -- overall. "When you make something easy for people to get, chances are that you're going to sell more of it. And if targeted campaigns become 20 percent of your media plan instead of 10 percent, then that's twice as many ads that at least have a shot at being relevant. So that actually helps things."
But which system will have a bigger impact on the industry? The prevailing view seems to be that TACODA's offering is appealingly transparent and inclusive, while Revenue Science's will provide more comprehensive data. Until both services are used for a significant number of actual targeted campaigns, however, it's just too early to tell.
Meanwhile, industry sources are glad that someone is at least making an effort. When it comes to online media buying, says DHD Chicago Media Director Sue Harrison, "Making it simpler can only help." And Michael Zimbalist, president of the Online Publishers Association, agrees: "Anything that makes [behavioral targeting] more efficient and easier is going to be a boon to everyone."
So maybe advertisers and publishers are already speaking the same language after all.
Justin Anderson is an integrated marketing copywriter living in Chicago, where he works for 141 Worldwide, a WPP agency. Read full bio.
Case study: GameStop
Each month GameStop, the world's largest retailer of video games and entertainment software, puts a spotlight on a particular game. One recent promotion focused around the latest installment of "Guitar Hero". GameStop and its promotions agency, The Marketing Arm, created an eight-week contest where people uploaded an image of themselves to a specially created website. Each week the person receiving the most votes would win a GameStop gift card. However, the grand prize would reward one randomly chosen winner with a character modeled after him or her to be created and featured in the next iteration of "Guitar Hero."
Now stop for a minute and think about that. If you are a "Guitar Hero" fan, the idea of being immortalized in a future version of the game is the ultimate prize, right? It quickly answers the question, "Why would I care?"
As great as a promotion as that is, if no one knows about it, it doesn't matter -- the old tree in the forest analogy. Our job at Fanscape is to not only find the people who would be most interested in this contest, but to find the biggest voices, as well; the people who speak and those who listen. Once these influencers are found, our goal is to get them to participate, drive them to this website, enter the promotion, and vote.
Type "Guitar Hero" into YouTube's search box and you'll see nearly 300,000 results appear. There are countless videos of "Guitar Hero" gurus and phenoms who've posted videos of themselves showing off their expertise. This is where we started. We found the top players of the "Guitar Hero" franchise as well as competitive music game "Rock Band". Then we scoured Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs, and so on. We approached hundreds of these influential gamers and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
The standout was a guy named Freddie Wong. If you are a "Guitar Hero" enthusiast, then you know who Freddie is. Two years ago Freddie uploaded a video of himself schooling the world on how to play Rush on "Guitar Hero." That video has been watched over 6 million times.
Nearly 15,000 people subscribe to Freddie's YouTube channel, and when Freddie posted a video asking his fans to vote for him for the GameStop contest, it was viewed 50,000 times. Freddie not only requested the support of his fans, he actually offered up a prize that he supplied himself -- one of his specially made "Guitar Hero" guitars.
Freddie was not paid, nor did we fly him anywhere or give him lots of free gifts. We simply sent him an email, told him about the promotion, and he did all the rest. He participated because it meant something to him. And like Freddie, many others did the same.
The results were fantastic. While Fanscape was only one small part of the overall marketing of the promotion, 25 percent of the weekly winners were influencers like Freddie, and 65 percent of all votes cast were related to our outreach. The promotion was a smashing success, and GameStop was overjoyed at the results.
Case Study: MTV
In the GameStop case study, you can see the power of the influencer. Harnessing that power is a key component of digital word-of-mouth marketing through the social media realm. This next example is dedicated to showcasing the power of syndicating digital video content across multiple social media channels. Something we did for one of MTV's most popular shows: "Randy Jackson Presents: America's Best Dance Crew".
Currently in its fourth season, "ABDC" (as it's known amongst its fans) continues to thrive and has become a major property for MTV. In the television world, it's known as appointment TV. It's the kind of show that you have to watch live. The kind of show television networks and their advertisers love. The kind of show that creates passionate viewers eager to know what's going to happen and to relive what they just saw.
Fanscape has been developing and executing the social media marketing for "ABDC" since its debut. Our work includes uploading video clips to user generated content sites, providing influential blogs and websites with exclusive video content, partnering with the dance crews themselves to promote the show and nurturing powerful relationships with fan websites and social network pages.
The show took off early. We could see it in the views. We would upload the clips and within days the views would skyrocket. Now mind you, a typical clip for a television show might get 5,000 views, 10,000 on a good day. Some of the "ABDC" clips were getting views into the millions.
How does this happen? You don't just upload a video and expect people to watch. No, it happens when videos become syndicated and multiple parties embed them into their blogs, fan sites, social networks, and official show properties. That's what happened with ABDC.
When the show started, there wasn't an audience, so we began our marketing by executing online publicity tactics seeking content and editorial placement on blogs and websites that were geared towards reality shows, dance, hip hop music, and pop culture. Sites like TVgasm and MyYearbook embraced the show early and wrote blurbs and embedded video clips.
Fan Sites are online communities that are run by fans. In the case of "ABDC," we found fan sites dedicated to the show's judges, to the musicians whose music was highlighted on a weekly basis, and to the show itself. Champions included a fan site for judge JC Chasez and one of the show's biggest supporters -- a blog created by uber-fans of the show, BloggingDanceCrew.
The biggest and most powerful drivers of views were the social networks. Specifically the ones run by the dance crews themselves. When you combine the MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter profiles of each dance crew and their individual members, the reach is in the millions. And each week they happily pushed clips and their own personal commentary to their friends, family and fans.
Official show properties
Rounding out the quartet, we pushed out video content through MTV on the show's official website and on its MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter profiles.
Add all of that up and you have your views. You have your awareness. You have a hit show. But don't go thinking that you can do this every time, because you can't. As stressed before, each campaign is different. Each has its own path. In the case of "ABDC," it was video driven. The content was compelling; it fed the fans and gave them fodder for conversation. They wanted more and to get more they watched the show on MTV and then watched the clips again online.
The takeaway is this: if you have a product, odds are someone already loves that product and is talking about it. Listen to them. Understand what they are saying. Respond to them. Invite them to participate in what you are doing. Empower them. Give them the tools to talk about you and your product even more. Reward them. Give them something that answers the question, "Why would I care?"
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Supply overload is making people question the quality of display
If your ad is one of several hundred being called that day, what are the chances you're making an impact? Too much supply is watering down ad effectiveness. It's simply gotten too crowded.
Creative is starting to live seven scrolls down
To accommodate the huge amount of advertisers (brought in by low prices via huge supply), some publishers are letting creative live six to seven scrolls down the page to accommodate the IOs. These are wasted impressions and hurt publisher credibility. The area around the fold only has so much ad space.
Kolin Kleveno ends our conversation by explaining why publishers need to limit their supply and give users simple ways to exit out of bad ad serving experiences.
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"Many red people standing in front of you saying Ad" image via Shutterstock.