Audience management = Advertising equality

Recently a friend boldly asked me the question “how could I work in an industry that so arbitrarily delivers biased ads to broad demographic audiences?” As I thought to myself “not another one of these anti-advertising conversations”, I listened to her pose questions around how seemingly ridiculous the boisterous truck ads that aired during Sunday afternoon football games appear. She asked if there was something in the male psyche that reacted to the bold lettering, the loud voice and the hero imagery of a pickup truck. In strong defense of my chosen profession, I responded by stating that ads are created with deep knowledge into the emotional and cognitive reaction a consumer will have to the showcased product or service (hopefully without a clichéd reference to Mars & Venus).

Walking away from the event, the angel sitting atop my left shoulder congratulated me for standing up for the industry. Without a doubt there is some truth in what I said; display advertising delivered to channels that are most frequently visited or viewed by a specific demographic (or market) helps brands cast the largest net and develop widespread awareness. And yet, the devil sitting on my other shoulder was nagging at me:

  • Is a demographic targeting approach the most appropriate use of advertising dollars?
  • Does it reach the intended and most relevant audience?
  • Notably, were the men who watched Sunday afternoon football the only cluster of consumers buying pickup trucks?

Just because I favor watching re-runs of Julia Roberts’ movies on the E! Network over watching the 76ers make it to the 2013 Super Bowl, does it mean that I should buy a Prius over a Ram? Heck, what if I want some extra torque in my life? Even if I’m not in the target demographic, should the pickup truck advertisers be trying to reach me in order to earn my dollars? (paging Gloria Steinham!)

The truth is, yes, advertising campaigns should reach the entire pool of consumers who are most likely to buy a pickup truck…not just the target demographic that we assume are most interested in the vehicle. Dropping cookies against consumers who read information sites about trucks, research trucks on automotive sites and search for nearby dealerships are, in aggregate, the precise market that is likely to buy the truck. Regardless of age, income and/or gender, audience management is at the forefront of today’s digital landscape – interest and intent reign in place of market segmentation.

Good audience management goes beyond simply pushing one ad creative to all similar cookies (e.g. all cookies dropped against all audiences looking for an automotive-related query). The value lies in the ability to manage all of these cookies that have been collected and deliver ad creative that is most aligned with what the consumer wants within their given shopping journey.

For instance, if the consumer is only looking at blogs that outline the next fleet’s new features, he/she is most likely just interested in the category of products (e.g. “Trucks”). As such, top-line branded advertising should be delivered via ad exchanges against interest as a means to cast a wider net (and reach a larger audience) than what only demographic targeting can provide. If the consumer is looking at a specific model on the maker’s site, he/she should likely be categorized as a browser. Therefore, the message delivered to the consumer would reinforce the brand’s USPs over that of the competition. Finally, if the consumer is searching for a nearby automotive dealership via a local search engine, the consumer is most likely a shopper (or better yet, a buyer) and should be targeted with promotional ads that feature discount pricing or limited time promotions that will encourage immediate action.

Don’t get me wrong – brand advertising has its place. Men are much more likely than women to buy pickup trucks. As such, pickup companies should seek to run branded ads on channels and sites most frequented by men. But display advertising campaigns (even branded ad campaigns) shouldn’t stop at upfront site buys. The next step needs to be targeting against the precise consumers who have been tagged (from whatever source) as having the most likelihood to buy the vehicle now. It is in this precise audience targeting that advertising campaigns will generate increasingly positive ROI and the right products will get in the hands of the right consumers – no matter who (or what) they are.