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Retargeting my thoughts on ads

picture of target with arrowsAt the recent ARF AudienceXScience conference, targeting ads was one of the key threads running through the conference. There were discussions about its benefits, its problems, Big Data services for it, and legal implications. There was even a quasi-debate about it.

I don’t think anyone disagrees with the concept that targeting more precisely than age and gender demos is generally a good thing. Showing consumers ads in which they are more likely to be interested should be beneficial both to the consumer and to the advertising brand. But past that, there seems to be many different opinions.

Large linear TV networks want you to believe that overzealous digital targeting can create a high proportion of unproductive impressions (which their networks can help one avoid, of course). Data integrators have tens of thousands of consumer segments but serve notice that, not surprisingly, very narrow targets will be challenged by reach. High-end sources of data warn that the mix-and-match data fusions so common in this space are only as good as the quality of the ingoing data. And legally, consumer awakening about privacy issues, and the ripples from GDPR in the EU, may push users of Big Data into more explicit responsibility for, and constrictive uses of, consumer data.

The main villain to arise was not targeting but retargeting. This practice is most recognized as that which continues to send you digital ads for a product you may have bought months or years ago. This practice by itself is enough to put consumers off the value of sharing their data for digital ads, and one I discussed in a previous blog post about Foreverspin Tops.

At least in my experience, maybe one tenth of digital display or video ads I see are anywhere close to relevant to my interests – and most of those are lagging my actual behavior by weeks or months. Currently there is no incentive – if it can even be done – for data aggregators to close the loop on sales, but maybe that’s the next step to take to make targeting really work. As someone who generally shares their data, as of now the benefits seem few.

Which Point of View?

In the debate, the conference audience clearly agreed with the team that argued that we shouldn’t be “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” Targeting has its faults but the concept shouldn’t be shut down because its initial implementation has had its teething problems. That’s true, but looking at it from the media/marketer point-of-view.

From the consumer point-of-view, these drawbacks may create a persistent dissatisfaction that will carry over even once the industry has solved its implementation problems. And if consumers have by then gained more complete “ownership” of their digital data, then targeting may suffer from lack of data.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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