In the Standardless World of “BT” is Transparency the Only Cure?

By Julia Casale-Amorim

As an advertiser, the notion of behavioural targeting sounds exciting…in theory. The allure hasn’t escaped countless big brands, notably the major North American automakers who have been on board for years. But does it really live up to the hype that sale execs are touting? Maybe it’s just a bunch of overly complex mumbo-jumbo that confuses advertisers into thinking it’s something that it’s really not.

For those of you who are familiar with Casale Media, you’ll know that we don’t offer behavioural targeting. Consumer privacy concern is the primary driver for our no-BT position, but second to that is the lack of standards associated with this method of targeting. This doesn’t mean that we can’t sympathize with clients who use the technology, or try to offer them some advice.

The first thing you need to understand about behavioural targeting is that it needs to be current to be of value. I might be in-market for a new car, but chances are that once I’m in buying mode, it’s not going to take me long to make a decision. Personal experience aside, I recently came across some research from TNS Media Intelligence that revealed, “Of new vehicle buyers, 59% researched one month or less before they purchased a vehicle.”

And now for the punch line…behavioural targeting as we know it today relies on historical databases for audience intelligence. REPEAT. Behavioural targeting as we know it today relies on historical databases. And therein lay the biggest flaw with this approach.

Updates to BT data simply can’t keep up with the size of most buyers’ consideration windows. This means that most of the data used to target so called “buyers” is outdated before a campaign is even launched, rending the method useless. Now this may not be the case for all BT vendors, but as an advertiser it is nonetheless important to determine whether your BT vendor is sensitive to this caveat.

There is also no defined mechanism for removing those who have already “bought” from the pool other than applying an “expiry window”.

“Looking for in-market car buyers? Sure, we have those, but we can’t tell you how many already bought the car.”

There is inherent merit to the driving idea behind behavioural targeting, but usage of behavioural targeting with success largely depends on the provider and their practices. The best advice I can offer is to demand transparency over that vendor’s BT methodology.

Here are a few questions to ask:

  • Where does the data come from? How is it collected?
  • How frequently is the data updated?
  • What constitutes a targetable behaviour?
  • How much time must elapse before that user’s “behaviour flag” expires?
  • How much control do you as a buyer have over this process, i.e. can you specific the expiry window (5 days, 14 days, 30 days)?

While transparency alone won’t fill the gap left by the lack of BT standards, it will give media buyers a new means by which to evaluate BT vendors, and with any luck, lead to more success and less frustration.

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