In a meeting last week, I was asked to explain why I am neither a believer nor proponent of true one-to-one marketing. The truth is, I don't believe that the future of advertising -- particularly brand advertising on television -- is about finding the most perfect ad for each and every person each and every time they interact with media.
Much of what makes media advertising special is its scale, not its singularity. There is no question that the future of all electronic media advertising will be driven more and more by data and dynamic insertion. However, divining and delivering personalized ads for everybody is not the future I believe we will see. Here's why:
Ads are better when shared. Much of what makes great advertising great is its sharing. What would the post-Super-Bowl water cooler talk be like -- or the real-time Twitter feeds -- if we each got different ads during the Super Bowl? Not nearly as special, I think.
Ads people want. What will make advertising most valuable in the future will be what the ad means to the recipient, not the sender. Ads people want will work really well. Ads they don't want will be skipped or blocked or ignored. Ads that can anticipate need, are serendipitous, or deliver concrete real value will be successful and will rule. Ads that look like the kind of direct-response ads we get in direct mail may get good response rates, but won't win fans among the majority of non-responders who will feel like they were spammed.
Filtering, not targeting. In my opinion, the best use of data and dynamic systems in ad delivery is the ability to filter out ads people don't want, rather than trying to divine the perfect ad for each and every person. For example, using creative versioning systems in TV to ensure that erectile dysfunction drug ads are not shown at times when young children are watching. Wouldn't it be nice if we could watch MLB games with our young children and not have to change the channel quickly during every other ad break, just to avoid inquisitions about the ads and the graphic disclaimers accompanying them?
Creepy factor. People want ads that are useful, but many people don't like ads that are too obviously for them only. Even if this is only a modest number of media users -- and I don't believe it is -- it is too many to ignore. It's not just about gaining viewers' permission and trust, it's also about not making all media experiences like trips through the bazaar in Istanbul with hawkers in your face at all times. I actually love the experience of the Istanbul Bazaar, but it's not for everyone all the time, particularly in the hoped-for peace of a private living room.
Balance science with art. Just because you can deliver a supposedly perfect ad doesn't mean you should. Using data and technology to optimize the delivery of advertising can help everyone involved in the media experience. Advertisers and their agencies can use targeting to be more efficient and drive better return on investment. Media owners can drive higher yields for their inventory. Users can get more relevant ads -- maybe fewer of them, too. However, doing this well is more about balance and managing nuance and less about a perfect algorithm. It's more about anthropology than statistics.
I hope that the Super Bowl -- and most of the rest of television programming -- continues to deliver mass advertising. I also hope that, over time, much of it will be mass-customized, more tailored, segmented and more relevant to me and my family. But, as I argue above, I don't believe that it will only about perfectly personalized ads. That won't be great advertising.