Behavioural targeing of ads

By October 12, 2006Advertising

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It seems that behavioural targeting is starting to hit volume.  Advertising.com have done a deal with Revenue Science (reported here) and Yahoo! are rolling out behavioural targeting across their UK properties.  I first read this in NMA but their site has too much DRM to link to.

Behavioural targeting is similar to contextual targeting in that it takes extra information about the surfer and uses that to serve ads that are more relevant and can be sold at a higer price.  Contextual advertising takes information about the page that the ad is being served on and uses that – so a site about cars might feature adverts for cars, or for car insurance.  Behavioural targeting takes information about surfing history and uses that – so if you have visited ten sites about holidays in the last day you might get served an advert for holidays, or for travel insurance [except the latter seems to be free these days – I am now covered three times for travel and don’t pay a bean – once through my bank account, once through work and once from my home contents insurance :)].

This is another example of the web starting to get organised round people instead of websites.

The reason I am writing this post is that it seems the market is finally buying into behavioural targeting.  It has been dogged by privacy concerns – see here for a discussion which neatly covers both how people are diving into BT (as behavioural targeting has become known) and some of the privacy risks.  In the comments a guy from Yahoo! responds well highlighting the difference between anonymous BT and named BT, and gives an example of what Yahoo! does that it is difficult to see anybody sensible objecting to.  Regular readers will know that to my mind the world worries too much about privacy and that whilst there are legitimate concerns there is much opportunity that is being lost as due to the use of hysterical and emotional language against services that would use information about surfers but would also allow them to access better and more relevant services for less money.

Revenue Science now has a great and extensive client list (including my former employer Reuters) and according to NMA “behavioural ads are fast becoming a ubiquitous element in online ad-campaigns” and around 30-40% of ads on the Guardian properties are behaviourally targeted.

Selling technology into advertising has always been a hard thing to and the BT crowd are overcoming that problem by doing deals with the ad-networks rather than publishers.  Hence the advertising.com-Revenue Science tie up.  These deals turn the idea of BT on its head slightly – instead of thinking about targeting ads based on users behaviour they define inventory on the basis of behaviour.  For example an inventory category might be people who have visited holiday sites twice or more in the last week.

This is all a good step forward and will help owners of good content monetise their sites.  It can go further though.  To get the most out of this we (and I mean the country collectively) need to lose the fear around privacy and start seeing the potential benefits – that way BT can move to being on a named basis, and will get better still, which will be good for everyone, provided it isn’t abused.  Extra information can then be layered in as well.  For example I saw a UK start-up this week that has demonstrated the power of using information on people’s attitudes to target ads.

This takes you quite quickly to optimising ads against user profiles, which then ought be something that we as individuals manage.  That is looking quite far into the future, but to my mind it is inevitable it will come.

My other beef in this area is that I have yet to find many UK or European companies that are getting good traction in this space.  If you know of any….