Conglomerating Behavior

In his new research report from eMarketer on behavioral targeting, senior analyst David Hallerman says that the recent acquisitiveness of portals and holding companies like WPP and Google is due in part to growing interest in BT. The search and portal brands like Microsoft and Google especially are looking for the best available technology to complement the search data they already gather. “If those data are combined with Web site visitor tracking data gathered by DoubleClick or aQuantive Atlas division, for example, the behavioral segments created will likely deliver very precise targeting for advertisers,” he says. We asked Hallerman to explore the targeting and privacy implications of this sudden consolidation of the field.

Behavioral Insider: You think that some of the motivation behind the recent ad network consolidation by Google and Microsoft involve ambitions for BT, right?

David Hallerman: That is certainly part of it. Some might say BT is going to be a lynchpin for getting more brand advertisers online. One of the key things that online kept promising is greater relevance, greater accountability for the advertising. To get that relevance in concept BT promises an awful lot. But when you are brand advertiser it is hard to get the kind of reach you want. So that’s one of the things playing here, especially if there will be the desire then to combine for a Yahoo, MSN, or Google any kind of search data.

Behavioral Insider: One of the things you suggest is that BT will evolve into more predictive modeling. Of what sort?

Hallerman: It’s an area of data mining, a process like women between the ages of 35 and 55 going to this site and tending to go to this other type of site afterward. It is that kind of extrapolation that isn’t as direct as the classic example of [users] looking at a car site, so we give them car ads on unrelated sites.

Behavioral Insider: On the privacy issue, some say that BT becomes a third rail for search -- because at that point BT moves above the radar and search tracking hits a red line when it comes to privacy. When you combine the two, that may be the point, finally, at which we see privacy groups and consumers really start making noise.

Hallerman: That definitely could be part of it. Google is talking about having a dashboard on screen so anyone using GMail or whatever could decide clearly what [of their data] gets used or not. It’s going to need to be more overt to individuals and to give them options for what of their data and their actions will be tracked. Anyone who gets ahead of the curve on that could then be able to combine the search with the behavioral.

They’re not being intrusive in the same way as doing it in secret. Sometimes the concern is the underhandedness as much as the privacy. One of the surveys I looked at [found] 73% of people are concerned about privacy, but they aren’t going to change their actions on the basis of it. For 17% it’s a hot-button issue.

The point is, the vast majority are concerned -- but. If that ‘but’ is answered by truly giving choices, any company or portal that does that [will] really get ahead and will be able to [combine search and BT]. Any company that can get ahead of the curve on that and then has the other desire for the brand advertisers who want to do this kind of BT could potentially combines them very nicely.

Behavioral Insider: You are expecting BT to account for about 2.6% of overall ad spend this year. Is BT still being held back?

Hallerman: By several things. It is counterintuitive to the advertiser to spend much higher rates for remnant pages than they would otherwise, and when it’s not even in the context of what they are selling. Advertising.com research showed that only one-third of publishers even have BT capability and they have concerns about privacy too, whether their audience data will stay private.

Behavioral Insider: You are projecting a big hike in spend between 2010 and 2011.

Hallerman: In terms of actual dollars, yes. It is going to take several years for the advertisers and the publishers to come together to give it enough mass to get it to work.

Behavioral Insider: In interviews here in Behavioral Insider some of the publishers with the most experience selling BT are actually the ones who seem to warn clients most about overinvesting in the approach. They often fear that by overselling segments instead of context they erode the overall value of their media brand.

Hallerman:  Exactly. But there are also more publishers coming onboard, ones that are not as concerned about that, too. But from the advertiser’s point of view, they should not be looking toward BT but looking at what they are trying to do. Rather than looking at the technology first, look at the goals and the objectives. It would be stupid for an advertiser to say, we want to do BT for this campaign. It is more important to say, who would be interested in our product, and how could we best reach them -- rather than putting the technology first.

Behavioral Insider: Well, is there an understanding yet about where BT fits within a set of goals? What function it has in a campaign?

Hallerman: No, it is not that clear. The best I heard was that it’s particularly good for establishing brand, when you have a new brand that you are trying to get some awareness for. Because the ad can follow people around, it can have them remember that they have heard of a brand. But this is more of a test ground at this point than virtually any other form of online advertising that has such a big mindshare in the industry. That awareness doesn’t translate into its being a very clear and clean mechanism.

Behavioral Insider: BT seems to be a leading indicator of how much technology is ahead of actual application online, how the most precise targeting tools are still so underutilized given the amount of money and attentions marketers now devote to online.

Hallerman: Underutilized, and BT still needs further refinement as a technology.