It’s the Relevance, Stupid

Inplace #2

ADOTAS – We’re suffering from a paralysis of analysis in the digital ad business. The latest example is in the excellent report put out April 18 from Nielsen and 24/7 Real Media. The survey quantified what this business has known for a long time: Click-through rates have slipped to occasionally unmeasurable levels.

The study blames distraction and a lack of trust. It also finally calls out the right reason for shrinking click-throughs: Irrelevance. And irrelevant ads are simply unnecessary with today’s technology.

First, some background. The study looked at consumer behavior and interactions with a range of Internet media including banners, expandable, video and rich media, excluding search marketing and Facebook. Those who participated in the study “hardly ever or never” click on advertisements they see across the Web.

The study showed that 61% say the ad takes them away from their purpose on the Web site. Most of the other responses scattered among different trust and security issues. Here’s the kicker: 58% percent didn’t see the ads as relevant.

Anyone who has seen an ad for retirement service accounts on a niche website for young adult fashionistas (as I saw the other day) knows how bad the irrelevance issue can be. My contention is that a continued lack of proper targeting will further train consumers to assume irrelevance. Better targeting will lead to more relevance.

After all, it’s 2011 — do you know where your ads are? You should.

But almost every brand marketer, media planner or agency executive often has, at best, a general idea of the sites, let alone the pages that display their ads today. That mystery can and must be cleared up for digital marketing to continue to attract more brand dollars and recapture relevance.

The reality of the current market place is that the Right Person at the Right Place at the Right Time has long been the Holy Grail for ad targeting. Much of the promise of digital ad technology has been to achieve targeting at that level. Major innovations in audience targeting over the past several years have brought display advertising capabilities much closer to that Right Person and to some extent at the Right Time.

But the Right Place has been the red-headed stepchild of the targeting and optimization space. Several trends have mitigated the move towards wider adoption of Right Place targeting. Does context still matter? Can technology move us closer to consistently placing the right ad in the right context?

Behavioral targeting advocates will argue on the side of data. And BT is terrific. But why are a huge portion of display budgets still based on content/contextual targeting when data-driven buying has hit ceilings on relevant impressions?

Google said real-time transactions on its DoubleClick Exchange more than tripled in the past year, and predicted that at least 50% of all targeted online display advertising will be bought through real-time platforms by 2015. But marketers and their agencies still must have a balance of man and machine to alleviate concerns over context and ad adjacencies.

The most effective way to address this is by building a custom network for every campaign; a “BluePrint” if you will. It can be built by a real-time dynamic structure for where a campaign should appear right down to the page level, as well as the pages it should avoid.

The concept gives brands and agencies the ability to build their own custom channel and decide where they want their messages to appear. Audience spend is addressing right person. BluePrints helps solve the problem of “right place.”

Individual publishers have long self-categorized as a means of packaging their inventory into the most relevant and valuable segments. But internal taxonomies are often inflexible and somewhat arbitrarily created.

The rapid growth of indirect sales channels: ad networks, DSP’s, DMP’s, SSP’s and trading desks has further hindered the ability of marketers to truly understand the context being offered. Agencies have largely outsourced the Right Place to third parties, which despite good intentions have limited ability to truly package and deliver relevant context to their advertisers.

The issue of striking a balance between humans and technology in digital marketing is important if our industry truly expects to realize the shift of brand dollars through our more automated digital distribution outlets, including RTB venues. To increase awareness and drive sales, marketers need the ability to define the environment where their precious brands are presented.

That restores the ability to discover a great web site and accompanying audience. It restores agencies to a role of designing a campaign that shows exactly where the ads ran, why they ran there, and perhaps most importantly, the sites that were avoided.

Digital advertisers need to reclaim the ability to safely and profitably target and optimize display advertising inventory that might have been previously unknown and inaccessible. Why buy someone else’s definition of the right digital display advertising environment for your brand, service or product? Create your own.

Illustration by Michela Buttignol.