ADOTAS – Earlier this week, ad targeting solutions provider (and self-styled “online display specialty company”) Aqua Media Direct quietly launched what they’re calling “PRE-Targeting,” a method of delivering ads to targeted audiences based on which kinds of audiences are inclined to visit which sites. The company uses third-party data, analysed and interpreted by Aqua Media Direct staffers, to glean insights into the demographics of websites’ readerships or viewerships, and in managing an ad campaign, it selects the sites where the campaign’s targeted audiences are likely to be found. Hence the “PRE-” prefix — instead of discerning who sees which ads as users go about their online browsing, the idea here is to find the site first, with the understanding that the audience will come. Over the course of a campaign, said Aqua Media Direct CEO Tom Doyle in a phone conversation, “We don’t change the data, because the data won’t change.”
The model behind “PRE-Targeting” isn’t exactly new. It’s pretty much the way advertising in traditional media has always worked, except that online data and offline data have their own particularities. While one might expect more modern methods like behavioral targeting or retargeting to serve a specific ad to a specific user to greater effect than a “content-first” model, Doyle disagrees, in this case. “We’ve done all those things,” he remarked. And what they’re doing now, as he sees it, is more effective. He gave the example of a major airline that wanted to geotarget users in the Phoenix area. “They wanted a $12 cost per booking, which we thought would be difficult,” Doyle said. But after the first month, he said, they’d brought the cost per booking down to $8. After three months, it was $6.59.
Prevailing knowledge in the online world is that a “content-first” approach is a little backwards. “You hear these DSP owners saying content would go away” in the process of orchestrating an online ad campaign, Doyle said. “Technology would get so sophisticated you wouldn’t need content anymore.” But he pointed out the offline world is more sophisticated than you might think. “If you look at the traditional media world, it’s very grown up,” Doyle explained. “And they do their targeting with third-party research.” Doyle says that since internet usage took off in the ’90s, trad media had to become more sophisticated for the sake of its own survival. “Traditional media invested more energy into finding the data to compete with online,” he said. He said his company’s picked up on some of the lessons from the offline world. Then his team tries to make sense of what they can glean about the demographics of a site’s following. “You have to know how to use the data,” Doyle said. “You have to know how to read it. We know how to use the data to find these nuanced audiences.” How nuanced? He said his team had gotten as specific as finding sites that attract users who might travel to Mexico to learn about Mayan fertility rites. Yes, that’s an actual example he offered. Look at it this way: There’s content on the internet about everything.
According to Doyle, part of why his company’s methods can work is the scale — the number of sites it works with, and the number of affinities. “An agency gives you 20 things about that audience, and we’re able to give them them those 20 things,” he said. But part of it is that is the human element, too — as much as the industry pushes toward automation, he said, there are things an algorithm can’t understand about the data it’s processing. “It’s actually a completely archetypal struggle, right?,” he said. “What we’re saying is, if you want to find humans, it takes humans, and it takes understanding humans.”