Glut of ‘irrelevant online ads’ messing up marketing campaigns

“Irrelevant advertising” on Web sites has reached epidemic proportions, and its impact is devastating, says an industry insider.

The sheer abundance of online ad inventory is at the heart of this problem, according to Gary Anderson, vice-president, consumer Internet service at Bell Canada.

Ad networks, he said, aggregate this inventory to provide reach and frequency at ridiculously low prices.

But the problem is a huge chunk of these ad messages are untargeted and completely irrelevant to the people who see them, the Bell Canada exec said. They’re found in all the wrong places and reach the wrong audience.

Anderson participated in a panel titled “Where technology and consumer trends are taking your business,” at The Business Ideas Forum organized by the Canadian Marketing Association last week.

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He recalled how his 18-year old daughter saw a dog food ad prominently displayed on section of a site dedicated to finding song lyrics.

“My daughter wasn’t in the Pet section of the site, but in the music section. And they had an ad for dog food front and centre.”

His daughter texted the link to a friend and when the latter opened the page was confronted with an ad … for a pickup truck!

“Companies actually pay thousands of dollars to put these ads on sites, and it’s such a profound waste,” Anderson noted.

He said expenditure on irrelevant advertising isn’t just a bad use of marketing dollars, it can actually harm a brand. “What’s more, such advertising is disrespectful to people visiting those Web sites.”

By contrast, Anderson said, smart marketing focuses on designing great creative that’s blends content with context and makes an emotional connection with its audience.

What are some ways this can be done?

Another panelist, Gerry Mackrell vice-president, sales at Corus Entertainment Inc., offered some thoughts on that question.

Toronto-based Corus Entertainment is a media and entertainment firm with a focus on children’s television production.

Today world class measurement technologies are available to advertisers today to help them gauge how specific segments of their audience react to specific messages, Mackrell said.

He alluded to the Portable People Meter (PPM) a technology that enables broadcasters to measure audience reaction. Though previously mainly used for radio ratings, the technology is now being used to provide TV viewing information to marketers.

For instance, Arbitron Inc., the Columbia, MD–based media and marketing research firm that developed the tool was awarded a contract by NBC to provide audience measurement for the recently concluded Winter Olympics.

Mackrell said today social viewing or co-viewing of TV programs is becoming increasingly common – and has materially changed the landscape. (An example of co-viewing, he said, would be a wife watching a sporting event with her husband).

This phenomenon has spawned endless possibilities for advertising that smart agencies and marketers can take advantage of, he said.

TV content too is far more malleable than it’s ever been before, he said,and has the potential to be reconstituted to support varied advertising applications.

“It ranges across such things as product integration, demonstration, testimonials and endorsement from TV celebrities.”

Mackrell said many TV networks realize this and have become much better in negotiating rights. “We’re now negotiating very broadly and deeply, so we have the ability to repurpose content.”

Proprietary research done by major broadcasters is also helping make advertising more targeted and relevant.

“This research is not self-serving,” the Corus Entertainment executive noted. “In the past few weeks I’ve come across really cool biometric data that tracks various different measures of engagement, of viewer response to ads – skin response, heart rate, respiration and more.”

He said this kind of information enables marketers to predict with a fair degree of accuracy the kind of impact a 30-second ad (say) would have in fostering audience engagement.

Measurement tools – such as PPM – are also being used to optimize radio programs and packaging, noted Sherry O’Neil, chief planning officer, Astral Media Radio.

“We’ve gone from a diary system to people wearing a Blackberry-like device that records their behaviour. It’s more accurate and gives us a ton of info we didn’t have before, and has radically changed our product.”

O’Neil noted that from a marketing perspective, radio faces a challenge as it’s not a glamour medium.  “As a result, we have a poor status with the agency community and also with some marketers.”

But she said radio has come up with creative solutions to this challenge. “Our unique selling proposition is our ability to be local and relevant,” said O’Neil. 

She said research has helped keep Astral and other radio stations attuned to audience needs.

Her station is working with global research firm, Radio Intelligence “to develop an advertiser-friendly product that’s relevant to the consumer.”

Astral, she said, also understands the value of building brands in the radio community and in the recent past has launched two new stations: Virgin Radio 96 and Boom FM.

“Virgin was one of the few radio stations in the market able to deliver on their financial objectives because of the strength of the brand.”

At the end of the day, she said, “packaging content” is what the radio business is all about.

“When you think about it, CHUM FM, Virgin, KISS, all play the same music. So it’s the experience around that that makes the difference.”

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