Behavioral Targeting: Works in Some Ways, But Still Lacking

Now I know there are more articles about the benefits of BT than any of us could possibly count (as well as posts about how BT could possibly just be a bunch of bull, but…in all fairness, I’m sure the behavioral likes of Tacoda, Revenue Science, and a slew of networks have been able to capitalize on this technology over the last several years, so its obviously working for their clients.
One of the most recent industry ads that I actually saw came from a question that Revenue Science composed, which basically states, “does your campaign know the difference between Interest vs. Intent? They’ve even created a landing page,, which by the way, doesn’t even make an attempt to inform interested parties about how the ad network goes about distinguishing between the two (it’s just a lead gen form).A favorite quote of mine that really address this from an interesting point comes from Digital Planner Helge Tenno:

“There is just no way an inanimate piece of coding could understand a persons interest, mood, motivations, patience’s, finances, dreams or attention span at any one time.”

I’m sure that in the case of Revenue Science (and other similar ad networks with a focus on BT), there is some proprietary algorithm that goes about determining what could be, let’s say, simply browsing behavior, versus something like consuming information on a specific topic that is driven by search behavior (many ad networks providing BT also provide re-targeting capabilities based on users’ search behavior on engines such as Google and Yahoo). However, I agree with Tenno’s point about how no matter how sophisticated a certain targeting technology is (in this case BT), it really doesn’t get down to anything that could really gauge a person’s actual mindset.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is much value in targeting within media campaigns in order to reduce waste, and it goes without saying that online media campaigns shouldn’t do all of the lifting in reaching a relevant audience (that’s what strategists, account planners, creative’s and media planners are for). I’m sure there are handful of case studies that the ad networks are willing to share over a sales meeting to try and convince us. I’m just still waiting on how any type of technology can come up with an algorithm that truly addresses a users actual mindset (although 24/7 Real Media has partnered with Mindset Media last year in making a bold but rather vague attempt at this) In the meantime, our fancy technology will continue to try and make heads or tails of reaching relevant audiences, and we’ll have to continue depending on the current technology that we have available until we can actually get into people’s brains, literally.
Note: As part of OMMA’s 2009 Survival Guide, They’ve published the “10 Things You Need to Know about Behavioral Targeting,” found here.