Wise Man Makes Same Mistake

Here we go again. Web advertising executives from companies that make money from the sale of advertising, without producing the content generating the ad impressions sold, will perch themselves on conference stages this month and tell everyone sitting below that what they are now selling is "it" -- the panacea to more effective advertising. Raise your hand if you have heard this one before?

This time "it" is the technical ability to make a media purchase through a DSP (demand-side buying platform) based on audience -- and "decoupled," as MediaPost's Joe Mandese eloquently described it, from the media content being consumed. Let me break this down with no acronyms and in real life.

While prepping for a seminar for a beauty and fashion brand, I burned through quite a few page views on a site I would not normally visit.

An ad sales entity other than the site publisher figured out I was reading content that did not match my audience profile. Insight -- collected without my direct consent, of course -- had me likely defined as a male, in his mid-forties and living in the greater New York area, who loves football. So, badabing, I was now seeing a leaderboard and a medium rectangle simultaneously served, asking me to click for information about purchasing New York Giants season tickets -- all on a page whose content encouraged me to look at new fall fashion trends.



Behavioral targeting like this is innovatively interesting. Having the opportunity to buy impressions targeted this way, without dealing with the content properties directly, is compellingly efficient. Bidding on the price and purchasing the impressions in real time brings complexities along with its incremental benefits. But is any of this "it"?

That's the mistake Web folks continue to make. They over-hype their solutions, thinking they are being asked to solve the problem of advertising, when all they need to do is uniquely complement the overall media plan. As a result, these companies and their executives come across as if they're saying the way media was bought and sold prior to their offering was all wrong.

I know this is going to incur the ire of one company in particular, but c'mon, even if it has another meaning or was completely unintentional, calling yourself "Right Media" is one example of this arrogant odor Web advertising executives exude (unintentionally, one would hope).

So is buying media in real time, based on audience and not context, the right answer to the question of how to make advertising work better? No. Matter of fact, it brings up a few questions. Since the ads are targeted based on the profile of my computer technically and not me, what happens when someone else uses my computer? How is that accounted for? And I read that one company in this new space (MediaBank) claims it will offer this kind of media-buying "across media." How do you account for multiple people with different audience profiles watching the same television or listening to the same radio?

And for the record, I was the very first member of the defunct North Eastern Minnesota Viking Fan Club, so my buying season tickets for the Giants had zero chance of happening.

Had the ads served on the site I was reviewing introduced me to shampoo or shaving gels designed for men in their forties, I would have been a better prospect. But even this unification of both approaches, which appears like a good idea, is not worthy of a "this is it" kind of positioning.

So before you take the stage or take a seat in front of a potential client, regardless of what kind of advertising solutions you sell, tone it down so your offerings can be heard as they are likely intended -- as an innovative and unique complement to an overall media and marketing communication plan.

No one has the single answer to the question of what works in advertising -- nor should they ever sound like they do.

6 comments about "Wise Man Makes Same Mistake ".
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  1. Charles Hirsch from Star Interactive, September 16, 2010 at 12:05 p.m.

    This article is right on. Advertising can be targeted, but to proclaim that every single message will be relevant to every user is a foolish.

  2. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., September 16, 2010 at 12:10 p.m.

    We're not in this end of the business but the arguments expressed here by Ari have no statistical foundation. Advertising based on demographic selects, behavioral characteristics or whatever means of targeting is based on probabilities. Whether Ari was surfing pages he'd typically not surf or whether he's a diehard Vikings fan that would never buy a Giants ticket is irrelevant.

    What is relevant is whether a sufficient number of people in the target population convert to being customers. If there's a technical platform for ad targeting that generates a higher ROI than current practices without compromising individuals' privacy, that sounds like the "it" of the day to me.

    In the end, the proof is in the pudding and those claiming to have developed "it" (i.e. the panacea for marketers) will live or die by their platform's performance...provided we're all careful to run a true analysis of the end results rather than focusing on specific examples in our population for which the targeting did not make sense.

  3. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., September 16, 2010 at 1:43 p.m.

    The only offensive part of this article is your admiration of the Minnesota Vikings. :)

    Well, that and the fact that you believe there is shampoo designed for men in their mid-forties.

    I totally agree that technology companies over-sell the value that their current levels of targeting and buy-side automation bring to the table.

    Well said!

  4. Adam Tuttle from _, September 16, 2010 at 1:50 p.m.

    At the end of the day the advertisers are still spending the same amount to reach their goals there are just more people in the middle taking their share. These companies exist solely for their own benefit. If they all went away the advertiser would still spend the same amount of money to reach their customers.

    When the data wonks came into advertising a few years back they completely ignored the most important aspect of advertising. The human connection (random emotional reactions).

    This is not achieved with algorithms or better, faster technology. This was and will always be something created for and by humans. And this is why creativity will always win.

    This is not much different than the 10 years leading up to the market meltdown. The forgetting of basic human behavior (greed).

    While optimization and profiling do provide for a more efficient delivery (mathematically that is) the advertiser has not benefited nor has the publisher. The only ones really benefiting here are the companies that are selling the latest and greatest. I do believe that’s your point.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 16, 2010 at 2:09 p.m.

    If every recipient of Giant ticket targeting bought tickets, what price do you think the tickets would be? Conversely, if only ticket purchasers opened the message of the ticket sales, how many ads could be sold? Pick a peck of pickles. There are no absolutes except there will always be variables and no one will agree upon everything. General targeting is valuable. Very specific targeting loses fan opportunities (t-shirt anyone?, game eyeballs for higher CPM's. etc.) and potential customers. What? You bought Giant tickets for your son's birthday and hate sports? Waddayaknow?

  6. Tony Anderson from Incline Video, September 19, 2010 at 11:48 p.m.

    Good one Ari!

    I was surfing a new video game auction site-that I'm doing some consulting for-to see what ads I'd get.
    Sure enough the line up was > Hilton Hotels - Hyatt Hotels - Lexus - Cadillac - Harrah's Las Vegas - iPhone 4 ( I still have the 3GS ) and a few others I get hit with normally when I surf the major portals and/or news sites. There were NO relevant ads served to me as if I were a "Gamer" or video game peddler as is the make up of this sites audience I was only shown ads as being the 40's something business traveler that I also am. So I found out the pub was using Tecnorati who is a big user of re-targeting technology. Tecnorati is GONE and we're now
    running relevant ads to video gaming. I will also create MediVisor and atlas profiles so agency planners-that represent brands that would be a good fit for the site-can find us and send RFP's that will hopefully turn into IO's!

    Tony Anderson

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