Thanks to a convergence of technology and consumer habits, both fueled by the advancements of the 21st century, there is a growing trend among digital advertisers to purchase their key audience rather than buying specific destination media -- which is a positive development for marketers.
This trend is driven by two key forces: The first is the rise of what I call the Empowered Consumer, who is both everywhere and nowhere online. He/she flits from one site or social network to the next, with little regard for "community loyalty." Where MySpace was once the flavor du jour, its position has been usurped by Facebook, which in turn has ceded fans to Twitter and Foursquare. Each day, sites must earn and defend their status as the "shiny new toy" among consumers who are ever more dynamic and fickle. In addition, the "long tail" has grown even longer in recent years, as content sites have become MORE specific and granular around micro topics. This means that today's user is more elusive and fluid than ever for brand advertisers.
The second major force that has led to the adoption of "audience purchasing" is
improved targeting technologies by ad networks. This allows users to be tracked as they surf the Web. To use an example, take a display ad network that has 125 million unique users
across its network of web properties (comScore rates about 25 networks with this kind of reach). The U.S. online audience measures around 180 million unique users (as measured by comScore).
Therefore, this network has a window into the behavior of approximately three quarters of users online. If we see a consumer actively engaged in a car-purchasing Web site -- scrolling through 2008
Jaguars, for example -- we can surmise that that person is likely interested in purchasing a car. If we see them the next day on a sports Web site or unrelated niche site within our network, we are
now able to serve them an in-market car ad.
This enables advertisers and agencies to buy an audience. It minimizes waste and allows them to stay in lock step with the highly fluid Empowered Consumer. Overall, ad revenue is growing and "buying an audience" will become an increasingly vital factor driving this growth.