Display Ads That Perform


As we explained three years ago, we are now seeing a renaissance in the effectiveness of online display advertising because so many of the dollars have shifted from believing in certain “channels” and “publications,” to “users” and “behaviors.”

Even a superintelligent machine-learning display advertising system like adMetrica, which I love, is hampered insofar as it only learns about “places to put ads,” as opposed to “users who have a high propensity to respond favorably to those ads, based on recent behavior.”

Many casual advertisers haven’t caught full wind of the shift. On one hand, they might have been sold a piecemeal retargeting piece by a third-party vendor, and are playing around with it. On the other hand, they might still think of the “Google content network” as something that shows text ads intelligently on relevant pages, based on matching technology, keywords you feed it, or publications or URL’s you choose. And they might be unaware that various behavioral channels called “Interest Categories,” for example, do not target solely based on publication or “page,” but rather mostly on cookied users’ behavior patterns. For remarketing audiences, Google has even released a product called “Similar Audiences” to help advertisers reach a wider group than just users who have been cookied on one’s website. The idea is that Google uses statistical similarities in user behavior and attributes to try to give you another audience to remarket to — but one that you didn’t have to entice to your site in the first place. (So far, not much luck with this one, but we’ll keep trying.)

The tradeoff with doing more behavioral advertising is clear: the creep factor. Less ominously, it’s just a practical matter: we as marketers have to buckle down and stop showing repetitive offers to people who have visited our sites, abandoned our carts, etc. Sure, these efforts are extremely effective for a subset of the population, and they convert far better than typical display ads. But as Brian Easter hilariously showed at a recent SES Toronto panel on Remarketing, via a home movie of his dog rejecting the same bone seven times… if someone’s not interested, they’re just not interested.

As part of his presentation, Easter (of Nebo Agency in Atlanta) mentioned three principles (almost as asides) that still stick in my mind.

Principle 1: “Profit doesn’t beget profit. Great user experiences beget profit.”

What I think he meant: Because retargeting is such a powerful way to boost engagement with an identifiable group of recent website visitors, it’s possible to maximize profit short-term by hammering those audiences very hard with messages. But if you want to be around for the long term, thoughtful and relevant conversations and offers are much more sustainable for the long term. Leave a little on the table now, so you can make money next year, and the year after that. Don’t forget all the efforts you’ve put into maintaining a great image and rapport with your customers just because you’re squinting too hard at the ROI column on one type of marketing spend. Among other things, use impression caps and well-thought-out audience definitions to avoid irritating people unnecessarily.

Principle 2: “Behavior trumps demographics.”

What he meant: You’ve got Brian’s permission — and mine — to walk out of a meeting where some know-it-all with demographic research drones on about some particular target audience, as if someone’s just going to be salivating to buy today because you’ve got data that shows your product, a $35,000 motorcycle, “resonates” best with 5’7″ overweight men 28-35 with middle incomes. If a 75-year-old, wealthy, 6’6″, thin, white-haired gentleman has walked into a dealership that week and pronounced that he will “probably” be back later to “pay cash for the hog,” it’s probably worth figuring out how to craft a respectful message for (or send a birthday cake to) that near-buyer rather than bothering half the planet.

Principle 3: Don’t be lazy.

What he meant: Pay attention to image ad creative. If you’re going to be building a brand image or telling a story over an extended period of time, then craft that story in full and keep the creative diverse and interesting. The same banner over and over 50 times? The knee-jerk discounting that reduces the advertiser’s long-term ability to protect margins, sends confusing messages about brand positioning, and also costs the company margin on that particular (potential) sale? Rethink these lazy approaches to remarketing.

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