Don Marti

Sun 20 Oct 2013 09:25:28 PM PDT

An argument for targeted advertising

Corrin Lakeland has an interesting argument for targeted advertising. A niche vendor might not be able to justify the expense of a non-targeted campaign, even if there happens to be a great fit between that vendor's product and a subset of the audience. Someone who goes with just the advertised mainstream brand will end up with a suboptimal choice.

Won't somebody please think of the small businesses?

Unfortunately, even though this is a real problem, the more targeted that advertising gets, the less it helps. I like small businesses, but I'm still running Disconnect to block most targeting and tracking. Why?

Let's use Lakeland's example of carpet. I can go carpet shopping at the store that's been paying Little League teams to wear its name for 20 years, or I can listen to the door-to-door guy who shows up in my driveway and says he has a great roll of carpet that's perfect for my house, and can cut me a deal.

A sufficiently well-targeted ad is just the online version of the guy in the driveway. And the customer is left just as skeptical. Speaking of skeptical customers, Eaon Pritchard looks back at the famous McGraw Hill Man in the Chair ad (read the whole thing), and writes, What this ad is about resonates with me when placed in context of the great digital divide - ie on the one hand the school of advertising, online in particular, that favours the hyper-targeted, 'personal' and data driven tactics that are manifest in the near subterfuge of cookies, tracking and all manner of 'behavioural' targeting. And on the other the approach that favours strategies that contain content, usefulness, values-based communication, involvement, storytelling etc to name but a few.

People have learned to be suspicious of door-to-door home improvement sellers and telemarketers. And people ignore email spam, and choose email services based largely on spam blocking. Now, we're finding targeted web ads "creepy." And when your creepy marketing alarm goes off, that's because your inner economist pulled it.

Are there direct mail and email spam campaigns with good ROI? Yes, but direct marketing is a never-ending parasite/host game. People discard mail printed "bulk," you get USPS to change it to "Standard". Spam filters block one variant of a message, you get crazy with the Unicode and send different ones. Meanwhile, when people don't take advertising personally, it works—and not just as a response rate to a cold call/direct mail/junk fax/email spam/targeted web ad, but as a real signal that will influence people years later.

Non-creepy advertising isn't perfect, and doesn't solve all the customer/vendor match-up problems in the world. We have a lot of non-advertising tools for that. But it's a fallacy to say that just because non-creepy ads have a problem doing something, creepy ads are any better.

Bonus link: The Amount of Questionable Online Traffic Will Blow Your Mind by Mike Shields at Adweek. (via Bob Hoffman, Ad Contrarian)