If the online ad industry is old enough to have developed its own tiresome clichés, then surely "But can a banner ad make you cry?" has to be one of them. The lack of creativity, engagement and impact in online advertising relative to other media has been presumed in this industry since long before whack-a-mole banners.
But if digital advertising is notoriously weak at registering human emotion, content still does have that capacity. Certain material is likely to trigger a range of responses in us, from pride to sympathy, ambition to anger. But even if advertisers themselves have trouble tapping these emotions with their own creative, can they capitalize on adjacent content that does evoke sentiment, mood and emotion, and is somehow relevant to their brand?
"It is not magic that we are reading the minds of the reader," says J. Brooke Aker, CMO of ADmantX, a semantic targeting company that not only analyzes context for meaning, buyer intent and the usual content categories, but also tries to map emotional response. "There are in general a series of emotions that go along with people reading content in the news that say NATO dropped bombs on Qaddafi's head or Taylor Swift is in concert. Those are different in the frames of mind for most readers, which we can detect."
By way of example, Aker suggests that a business journal article might be celebrating an entrepreneur given an award for his growing a manufacturing company. The typical targeting might highlight the keywords that add up to a manufacturing ad. "We look at that page and take a different view," he says. "It will have pieces about success, the love of building something. The writer is imparting some of these positive emotions to the reader because those words are connoting feelings. We think those are bits of data that provide a very different stream of information." BMW's brands, for instance, could be aiming for a general sentiment of joy (joy of driving, etc.), and could be a better and more effective fit for that article because the reader is eager to share the joy of the award winner and emulate his or her success.
For one of ADmantX's clients, Lufthansa, the aim is to appeal to the reader's sense of relaxation and comfort -- and so ads might be placed entirely outside of the travel context and next to content that evokes those feelings. This brand of semantic targeting has some of the advantages of traditional behavioral targeting, in that it lets the ads reach outside their more expensive endemic content categories and align with a broad range of content. For publishers, the targeting can take otherwise remnant inventory and increase CPMs 400%, Aker says. But it does all this without the cookies and tracking that are starting to trouble some content providers and advertisers.
Aker agrees that targeting solely off of the emotional triggers within a given context is not fully reliable. ADmantx has over 700 data points in its semantic analysis, including many of the familiar ones like content category, buyer intent, etc. After all, don't many of us come into content with ironic, disbelieving or outraged emotions that are out of synch with the intentions of the author? Even I, as the author of this very article, am somewhat intrigued by the idea of targeting by emotion (and may even have some words that trigger the sentiment in the prose so far). Yet some of you may be screaming "BS!" by now. And even if the content is a good predictor of the emotional state of the reader, a BMW or Lufthansa surely doesn't want to grab all readers on "joyful" or "comfort" content? Clearly this is a targeting method that generally needs to be further honed by demo, geo or other audience qualifier.
But Aker says the proof is in his metrics -- a 183% lift in click-throughs on ads targeted with the system, he claims.
Potentially effective? Sure. That is the explicit meaning. But how does that lift make you feel?