A Tale Of Two Tails

Lately, targeting has been slighted by some big brands, resulting in grandstanding: Folks saying “Cookie targeting is dead,” “Targeting doesn’t work” -- or worse, “Advertising has been living a lie.”

That last idea, promulgated by a Business Insider piece, includes the following, verbatim:

“Advertisers have fallen in love with the fantasy of buying ads aimed at exactly the right people on the web's 'long tail.'

But that's not really how people consume media. Most people don't spend time on thousands of websites.”


First, buying ads directed to a person is not a fantasy. Targeting works -- which, by the way, is why everyone does it, and continues to do it. Just check the stock price of Criteo -- or Google, for that matter.

Retargeting -- working it on the long tail -- is the only practical way to do it. The technique relies on finding an identity in the footprint of inventory, and the chance of finding that one is tiny, except on exchanges.



To the second point (“not really how people consume media”):  Of course this is how people consume media! Every local site, every store in your city, every site about specific categories of products -- dishwashers, parenting, binoculars, dog parks -- all of them are long-tail. The vast majority (VAST, a million to one) of sites are long-tail. So, the long tail is where consumers are.

It also happens to be where bots and fraud are, but that’s a different story.

For niche or seldom-purchased products, untargeted or demographically targeted reach has little business benefit. Targeting continues to create breakthrough improvements by enabling companies selling niche products to use advertising when, in the past, they could not have afforded it.

The Sum of all Niches is a powerful concept.

So, there are two long tails we need to care about: publisher and advertiser (products), and they impinge on one another in predictable ways.

Advertisers are the forgotten fragmented. The marketing press has always focused on big publishers and advertisers. After all, Toilet is a boring story compared to, say, P&G. So, the fragmentation of advertisers makes for boring headlines.

However, the sum of all the boring stuff is where the real action is in today’s world, but that truth sneaks by us.

Traditional publishers hate the margins they get when they send their inventory to exchanges, are getting their lunch eaten by Facebook and Google, and won’t catch too many readers with an expose about a niche advertiser.

All in all, the whole subject of aggregating niches is kind of painful for publishers. So you don’t hear much about the huge potential of targeting from the press.

Many companies use targeting to more or less print money. They aren’t saying much either, because they don’t want you to know that.  

What do virtually all not-so-huge brands have in common? An easily definable subset of humanity that will need what they have. It may be a head gasket, or an LED replacement for an MR-16 light bulb, but the need will arise sporadically per person, and signals of interest are likely to be exposed in a typical data trail.  

Targeting is the only way media makes financial sense for the long tail of advertisers. If it didn’t work, they would not be able to afford advertising. But they can now, and it’s obvious.

Big advertisers, on the other hand, became big because they market things most people need. It stands to reason that if almost everyone might need a particular product, an off-target message is not a disaster.

Why then, do some huge companies bother with targeting? Auto companies, for example, will send branding messages to a relatively untargeted audience, but will get very specific when people exhibit buying signals. They use sharp targeting to respond to a buying signal, and broadly targeted branding as blanket coverage.

The simple fact that third-party data segments now comprise a $10 billion business suggests that targeting not only works, but is essential.

I would go so far as to say that, since targeting underlies most of the growth and success we see today in advertising (Facebook, Google, Amazon), if targeting does not work for you, maybe the problem is closer than you think.

3 comments about "A Tale Of Two Tails".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, December 14, 2017 at 3:38 p.m.

    Ted, if you are right and the"long tail" is where the consumers are to be found, why are many advertisers drastically reducing the number of websites they utilize---mainly dropping the smaller, "longtail",  sites, I assume-----and finding that it doesn't seem to matter?Just curious.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 14, 2017 at 7:31 p.m.

    2 tails and one tuchas = non existance.

  3. Amanda Bleich from Sizmek, December 15, 2017 at 2:44 p.m.

    There is going to be a lot of legislation coming into play that will require publishers to obtain opt-in's from the consumer in order to utilize data.  This is going to be more so in EMEA.  However, when implemented, this could be a major crush to 3rd party data providers.  And, such a situation could really hurt the likes of Criteo.  In addition, 3rd party data segmentations can be extremely costly.  Do you think that things could be changing significantly in the new year?

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