A scary, privacy embattled ad solution by any other name is still a scary, privacy embattled ad solution

January 23, 2012

I love reading the DigiDay newsletter, a great publication, but some of the articles recently have just been odd. This morning’s article, Ad Industry Want to Rebrand Behavioral Advertising, is the second in a row. Here are a few quotes from the article that caught my eye…

  • “It stands to reason that the advertising industry, faced with unease over behavioral advertising, would choose a rebranding exercise. It’s not behavioral advertising, you see, it’s ‘interest-based advertising.’ ”
  • “The new effort, done by McCann’s MRM in Salt Lake City, takes on the thankless task of educating consumers about the AdChoices icon that’s popping up in many banner ads. One thing the “Your AdChoices” effort doesn’t do is call behavioral advertising, well, behavioral advertising.”
  • “This makes sense. Interest-based advertising sounds much more benign and let’s face it creepy than behavioral.”

Rebranding of behavioral advertising is probably the right thing but the whole thought that this is the best approach is just missing the point. Cross domain tracking of consumer behavior, selling the insight to the highest bidder, is a scary proposition. The fact that it can be done doesn’t mean that it should, or that it is actually good. Leave aside the part that behavior is bottom of funnel activity, and the online channel is lamenting its’ inability to attract brand ad spend (anyone see incongruence?), the whole concept of behavioral targeting is tech based and seeks to extract value exchange from consumers in a rather insideous way.

The balance of ad tech has been, and will continue to be, technology driven and not focused on the actual engagement of consumers. The idea that behavior is a meaningful predictor of purchase intent is flawed… I once read a research piece on the predictors of buying a flat panel tv… one would think that the online behavior of looking at flat panels was a good predictor, it was number 26.

Instead of trying to convince congress and consumers that this is actually “interest-based advertising”, why don’t we start by asking what the actual predictors are to purchase intent and audience identification then back into that question an approach that provides value to consumers and not just ad tech intermediaries?

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What is behavioral targeting?

October 5, 2008

When you’re in a conversation and somebody uses this term, your first question should be… is this on-site or display ad behavioral targeting?

Typically, when referring to banner ads, behavioral targeting relates to the use of data regarding consumer behavior that’s learned across numerous domains. I’ve tracked a new industry group that’s tasked with defining standards and definitions for behavioral targeting, Behavioral Targeting Standards Consortium (BTSC). After reviewing the site once again before this post, it’s interesting that they don’t have any content yet regarding the accomplishment of this objective. Seems like it would be somewhat simple to define a market in broad terms, guess not.

On-site behavioral targeting is often times referred to simply as on-site targeting. Typically, it relates to individual consumer information that’s used to segment and them either serve a different experience on a website or measure the difference in reaction to particular aspects of a site by each segment.

This distinction is critical because it demonstrates how young the discourse is in the online industry. The idea that two words can mean very different things to two people who share a similar role should be rather concerning. And, is likely why we have confusion around many subjects.


Behavior is only one datapoint

September 29, 2008

Much has been written about on-site consumer behavior and its applicability to targeting programs. Despite this, little is really known about types of behaviors that are tracked or trackable, and which ones are truly indicators of or useful as a high-value targeting mechanism. It’s possible that we’ve over-inflated the importance of behavior and overlooked other things that should be considered. And, in doing this, headed towards a focus on a technology solution that relies upon the use of highly personal consumer information to fuel its’ engine… raising the concern of consumer protection groups and the governments of many countries.

Types of behaviors that are tracked or track-able:

  • On-site, single domain behavior – probably the least contentious source of data, easily believed by consumers as a valuable source of data to help marketers connect with consumers. Often called re-marketing, in a recent MediaPost article, Jeff Hirsch, the CEO of Revenue Science and Behavioral Targeting Standards Consortiumfounding member, specifically stated that this a limited version of behavioral targeting.
  • Cross-domain behavior – algorithms consume a large quantity of data, including searches, product views, and domains visited in the attempt to identify a sense of interest on the part of an individual consumer so a marketer can target ad messages. The aggregation of this data can occur via cookie tracking across a network or more recently there’s been attempts to validate the process of intercepting and interpreting all web activity from ISPs (i.e. NebuAd), creepy.

However, in all the dialog about behavior, what other data points are available that marketers can use as targeting methodology? Or, from a more important strategic perspective, what is the objective of a marketing program and which data points can help the marketer accurately identify and target?

My assertion is that other data points are more effective at targeting, achieving marketer objectives. Here’s why I say this:

  • Today, only a minor portion of display ad spending is funded towards behavioral targeting. Display ads are largely brand oriented. Marketers tend to choose domains as their primary targeting mechanism. Behavioral targeting comes too late in the purchase cycle to affect brand preference and attitude, it’s more of a “hail-mary” or a direct response tool.
  • Virtually no on-site targeting is the result of multi-domain data aggregation.

What other data points are available, without any fancy technology:

  • Geography, language, and season – these have been used for generations in the offline environment very successfully, why don’t we use them on line more often? The interesting point is that these data points are largely available to everyone with very limited technology constraints. Between a site visitors IP address and their browser settings, these data points are easy to use. Whether display ad or on-site targeting, these are available today.
  • Returning customer or new prospect – again, these are largely available to marketers today. Why not use them? Certainly, every marketer would like to speak to a new prospect in different terms than they would an existing customer.

In a later post I’ll try to talk about targeting options that require more sophisticated technology. Until then, send me your thoughts!

Mark


Behavioral decay

March 18, 2008

(be-hav-ior-al  de-cay) A new term that describes the rate at which a behaviorally targeted experience becomes irrelevant to the recipient. This rate is affected by the perceived value of the targeted experience, the perceived value of the desired outcome, and the degree of consideration involved with the activity.

When developing a targeting campaign, consider the lifespan you should attach to any given experience. Delivering a targeted experience beyond the user determined expectation for that message is not a positive to the recipient, and very well may be a negative.


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