With many high-profile cases of behavioural targeting
going awry, too
many digital advertisers are seeing behavioural targeting as the be all and end
all of their campaigns. 

As the latest IPA Bellweather figures have shown, ad spend continues to increase but as
digital marketing leads the way to recovery, there has been a lot of talk in
the industry recently on the effectiveness of behavioural targeting.

While many
of the industry champion it, many consumers are still inherently suspicious of
the notion of behavioural targeting
and the tracking technologies implicit
within this process.

Whilst behavioural targeting can of course be very
engaging when executed well, behavioural and contextual ad serving software has
not actually solved the problem of ‘relevance’ on a regular enough basis.
Consumer reticence arises when irrelevant or seemingly intrusive adverts are
served to a user based on a mistaken judgement of a consumer’s online preferences.

Take the recent example of Marks and Spencer advertising champagne to a nine
year old girl on a children’s’ games website after her mother had bought wine
online. This type of mis-targeting can do more damage than good to a brand’s

Despite what some highly vocal advertisers seem to
believe, behavioural targeting is not the solution to every online advertising
problem. Independent YouGov Research has shown that targeted adverts on niche
websites are much more likely to receive a better response rate than adverts on
generic websites, portals and search engines – regardless of whether the
adverts on the major sites are adjusted for behavioural targeting.

The reason for this is simple; consumers become attached
and are much more engaged with niche websites dedicated to their specialist
interests. Users are more trusting of these sites and continue to visit the
same sites over and again because they find them relevant, useful and

Relevant products advertised on these specialist sites are seen as
having the endorsement of the niche sites themselves and the adverts are thus
much more effective and likely to garner real results.

Despite this fact that the majority of engaged web use
takes place on niche websites, the majority of online ad spend is still focused
on the top percent of web sites with the highest reach – so the likes of Yahoo,
MSN and Facebook to name a few.

Too often online ad campaigns are viewed in terms of
numbers rather than in the context of wider marketing goals – the classic case
of reach over relevance. This has contributed to high profile examples of
misplacement and misjudgement with brands wasting huge ad spend on less
effective campaigns.

The lesson is clear:  brands need to be aware that
behavioural targeting is not enough
. Ads need to be intelligently matched with
niche content, reaching a genuinely responsive market segment, likely to elict
genuine interest and the desire to purchase a product.