Personalization Isn’t Creepy; It’s a Reality & a Necessity for Success


ADOTAS – The convergence of one-to-one and programmatic advertising will disrupt the practices and organizations of advertisers. We all recognize that mobile, video and online advertising sometimes live in silos — even though they shouldn’t — but those divides are nothing compared to the gap between advertising and CRM.

Every day I receive mail and email that is personalized. The message usually starts with something like, “Dear Bill, Thanks for your recent purchase of” fill in the blank. This isn’t creepy; it’s something that as a digital consumer I’ve come to expect. In fact, we accept that mail, email, Facebook, Twitter and other social channels are personalized; yet, if a store clerk interrupted me at a restaurant table to ask how I was enjoying a recent purchase, that would be intrusive and weird.

The same thing is true about ads.  We expect to get them.  We even expect vendors to recognize us online and make relevant offers, but we are creeped out if those ads have our name in them.  That is because advertising — on TV, in print, on billboards and kiosks, and on the Internet — is not a personal channel. But should it be?

One-to-One & Targeting Are Peas in a Pod

One-to-one marketing has long been understood to encompass a variety of techniques that allow an offer and the presentation of an offer to be customized for a specific individual.  Examples like variable data printing (e.g., “Hello Bill”) and recommendations (e.g., “people who liked that also liked these”) are well known to us — just look at your Amazon account. On the other hand, targeted advertising often makes the same offer, but to millions of consumers who have been selected because they fit a single, uniform profile. By their definitions they would seem to be quite different; however, a closer examination reveals similarities and an opportunity.

These two very differently defined marketing techniques are actually two peas from opposite ends of the same pod. One-to-one marketing claims to match a single customer to a single offer.  Since the number of offers is usually limited, the consumers can be grouped by the offer they receive, and hundreds of thousands receive the same offer. On the other end of the pod, audience targeting begins with an offer and selects all the consumers for whom the offer is appropriate. This is repeated for each variation of the offer so that, in the end, hundreds of thousands of consumers see each of the offers.

One-to-one marketing seeks to make offers both relevant and personal; and up until now, audience targeted campaigns have sought to put relevant offers in front of the right audience, but they haven’t made the leap to personalization.

The Market is Ripe for Personalization

Programmatic media buying platforms are the pinnacle of audience targeting on the Internet today. These systems have surprisingly accurate and complete data about individuals, and the technology can correlate that data to offers, resulting in a pretty good job of picking individual impressions for specific audience members for whom the offers are relevant. There are also technical solutions that can personalize ads. So why aren’t advertisers putting these two together?

They should be personalizing at least some of their ads. A set of loyal, but lapsed, customers is a perfect segment to go after with personalization — just ask any ecommerce company.  If a customer once spent regularly with a brand and then stopped, every effort should be made in every channel to win that customer back. The brand should be willing to grant a special incentive to those customers, and probably does so through email.  Why not also make that special offer through targeted ads? The special offer does not need to be personalized with a name, but it can and should be personalized with a unique offer that speaks to the individual’s known interests and circumstances.

It’s time for more advertisers to recognize the opportunity that one-to-one and personalization offers. Now that the capabilities of one-to-one marketing have come to programmatic media buying, advertisers should be thinking about addressing that gap and converging their practices and organizations.


  1. Bill:

    Thanks a ton for this. I couldn’t agree more.

    But, I’d take it even one step further. Beyond just targeting and retargeting for performance/commerce purposes.

    I was down at the ANA Brand Masters conference a couple of weeks ago and I was really struck by the fact that even brand marketing is shifting from a mass media activity to a 1:1 activity.

    With the growth of engagement on mobile and social platforms in particular, brand creation is all about engaging with people, 1:1, in a way they can hear, understand, and internalize.

    As you point out, the combination of data about those people, the ability to analyze that data, and the ability to connect that data back into programmatic and other platforms is what will let brand marketers get the right message, in the right channel, in the right format, to the right person, at the right time.

    Thanks for highlighting this issue.


  2. Bill,

    I certainly believe programmatic buying and personalization can eventually go hand-in-hand. Once you’ve identified a segment of your customer base to target with an offer, there’s no technological reason to not individualize it, other than the creepy factor you touch on. But that too will go by the wayside as consumers become more accustomed to receiving highly personalized ads. Such ads benefit the consumer, by both anticipating and providing a solution for a specific, known need, and making his browsing experience more relevant, and thus sparing him from obtrusive, extraneous advertising.

    At Gourmet Ads, we offer our customers the ability to micro-target their food advertising to those looking for a specific recipe, cuisine or even ingredient; it’s not a big leap to personalize those ads with a name, geographic location or, more likely, a store locator to purchase.




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