The Big Data Fallacy: Is Your Targeting Data Transsexual?


Brands, agencies and trading desks now have access to mounds of targeting and performance data to fuel advertising campaigns, and can pretty accurately track paid media that results in impressions, CTR and engagement. Big data and the rise of new marketing algorithms are giving advertisers insight into virtually every aspect of campaign performance, allowing brands to assign a value to the amount of time that a consumer spends with an ad creative, calculating online stickiness and engagement, measuring the viral sharing of content across the web, and even evaluating social influence and sentiment surrounding interactive content.

This data-centric shift in advertising has enabled marketers to hone campaign approaches towards what they believe they can achieve: “Mad Men” have been replaced by “Data People” in 2013.

Companies like Rocketfuel, RadiumOne, Rubicon, ChoiceStream, and eXelate have been working to harness the piles of data to help brands around the globe distill the art of advertising down to a concrete mathematical formula or algorithm. While measuring engagement was the industry’s hot topic 5 years ago, this buzzword has been replaced by “earned media”, challenging brands to calculate a way to measure viral lift through social data and explicit social conversations beyond the impression.

What targeting technologies are missing today is how social can positively impact the results of a campaign when harnessed effectively. Data-driven advertising is finally taking the guessing game out of advertising – but what the industry needs now is a way to design custom social algorithms to better target consumers online based on one’s social interactions across the web, social channels, and on Facebook. One approach would be to harness both campaign and social data to fuel display ad campaigns delivered both online and via mobile through real-time hashtag targeting.

With over 10 billion sharing events taking place each month over social media, big data is being created every second with each like, share and tweet. Smart brand advertisers are finding new ways to sort through this data to provide audiences with a seamless user experience as they move between channels and touch points.

Is Your Data Transsexual?

With the rise of all this data, how do we find a way to preserve what is important, to still allow advertisers the ability to cut the data into valuable segments while retaining the integrity of data to yield quality results. All too often, brands and agencies look at a large dataset that includes both men and women, and divide it according to gender lines for a campaign targeted specifically to one gender, like cosmetics for women and automobiles for men.

When creating these new demographic segments, sometimes they may be leaving out powerful purchase influencers and potential customers, resulting in poor campaign performance. Another issue is that not all data collected by advertisers can be easily categorized into buckets along traditional gender lines since accurate data is not always available. This is becoming more and more true with the introduction of social data from Facebook and Twitter, where identities are more difficult to confirm. Unless a consumer explicitly checks a box revealing his/her gender, advertisers are left to infer the gender of their prospects, and this may lead to inaccurate performance down the line.

According to gender advertising research from the College of Information Sciences and Technology at The Pennsylvania State University, “gender-neutral phrases perform the best overall, generating 20 times the return of advertising than any gender-targeted category. Insight from this research could result in sponsored advertising efforts being more effectively targeted to searchers and potential consumers.”

As Hasbro learned last month, their tactics of targeting children’s products along gender lines can cause a nationwide uproar. McKenna Pope solicited more than 40,000 signatures on her online petition and garnered support of celebrity chefs including Bobby Flay, who backed her request for Hasbro to make a gender-neutral Easy Bake Oven and to include boys in their advertisements. Hasbro acquiesced and is now planning to unveil the product in black, blue and silver, after previously only offering it in pink and purple.

This may seem like a very consumer-oriented, insignificant example, but as a brand, it does make you wonder whether you are working with stale demographic data captured from a campaign nearly a decade ago. According to the Wall Street Journal, women control 80% or more of household spending – something that brands need to take notice of when planning, executing and measuring their advertising campaigns.



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