Home The Sell Sider Publishers Can Help Creative Catch Up With Targeting

Publishers Can Help Creative Catch Up With Targeting


peterspandesellsiderThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Peter Spande, chief revenue officer at Business Insider.

The digital ad industry spent much of the past 10 years working on ways to improve its ability to target and isolate audiences online. We now can, in a few milliseconds, serve an ad to someone on virtually any site at virtually any time with remarkable precision, in terms of demographics, location, behaviors and intent. These targeting improvements continue to receive a tremendous percentage of our attention, investment and, ultimately, advertising revenue.

There’s been a tremendous focus on who shall get targeted, but that’s only one part of the equation. Like weightlifters who perpetually ignore their legs and overwork their upper bodies, our industry has focused too much on whom to target, while ignoring the chance to improve the creative reaching those targets. Publishers can play a big role in changing this situation.

This focus on targeting impressions has diverted attention from making an impression with the ad creative. Data can help advertisers serve better ads to their prospects. At some point – perhaps now – the marginal improvements in targeting will produce little to no added performance without improved creative. As an industry, we must balance our desire to isolate individual targets with our desire to deliver a message that actually moves our business goals forward. This requires a renewed focus on our creative tools and strategies.

At the core of this problem is a creative process divorced from the rest of the planning process. This process creates a one-size-fits-all platform solution that was clearly designed for TV and repurposed to work in other mediums.

The result is ultratargeted creative expressing a relatively untargeted ad message. There are several ways we can learn from the developments in audience targeting to improve the situation.

Reapply Lessons From Retargeting

 Retargeting is the best example of programmatic creative optimization available today.

What retargeting has done for ecommerce can and should inspire other types of creative executions. For example, location, behaviorial data and contextual signals can all trigger different creative messages to complement the targeting now available to us.

Reverse The Targeting Process 


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We use data-management platforms to target ads using first- and third-party data. But we rarely use this data to tailor a message to what we know about that person or environment.

Publishers possess the ability to add dimension to the interests and targets of their partners and play an essential role in making this kind of campaign successful. Sharing those insights and incorporating them into the creative development creates measurable increases in the program’s effectiveness.

Pass Contextual Data To Dynamically Select The Best Creative For That Page 

The right person is tremendously important but that doesn’t mean context shouldn’t be considered.

Yes, there are solutions that can determine context through artificial intelligence and semantic analysis but they simply aren’t being used with much regularity. Instead of determining whether to serve an ad, use context to determine which creative to serve.

Weather.com has shown the way with its ability to serve creatives that fit the weather, such as ads for outdoor grilling equipment featured next to sunny forecasts or home-repair projects appearing in rainy locations.

Work Through The Plumbing In Advance

Whether you are selling direct deals or programmatically, the work must be done proactively. Internal systems and external partners must be stitched together and tested well in advance.

Obviously this can’t be done with every program but, for those programs where a publisher is playing a central role in the strategy, pairing contextual and audience data to creative decisions can provide incremental lift and performance.

Make Creative A Part Of The Conversation Throughout The Process 

All too often, the ad creative is an afterthought or a placeholder in an otherwise extremely thorough discussion. The most successful campaign strategies will not succeed without strong creative.

Publishers of all types are collectively positioned well to seize this opportunity and move the business forward. Creative messaging, based on data and insights collected on their platforms, is a unique resource that has, thus far, gone underutilized.

Our collective excitement for tools that focus on audience targeting, with little regard for what that targeted message is saying, continues to constrain performance. Publishers, it’s time to help fix that.

Follow Peter Spande (@PeteSpande), Business Insider (@businessinsider) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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