Why three rights can still make your ad targeting wrong

by Nigel Hollis | November 25, 2015

A while back, my colleague John Svendsen published a Point of View (POV) on programmatic media buying. In it, he questions the ability of programmatic as practiced to really deliver on its promise, and proposes that brand data needs to play a key role in both targeting and creative development. Now a study reported in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) lends further evidence to support his case.

In his POV, John explores the premise that programmatic and the data-driven media buying offers the ability to hit the right person, at the right time, with the right message using real-time behavioral data as proxies for interest and intent. He suggests that the limited ability to identify the right time or context ignores established media planning best practice that takes into account social setting, moods and emotions to refine placement.

As if picking up on John’s proposition, a recent post in the Harvard Business Review blog finds that commercials with a tone inconsistent with that of the programming garner less attention than those that are more consonant. While the reported research focuses on ads placed in programming on Hulu, there is little doubt that the lessons would extend into the online domain, particularly for mid or post-roll video.

Titled ‘When Upbeat Ads Backfire’  the post by Nancy M. Puccinelli, Dhruv Grewal and Keith Wilcox suggests that in an attempt to gain the attention of distracted viewers, ads have become increasingly high-energy, but that being colorful, noisy and enthusiastic clashes with much of the subject matter in which the ads are shown, which is increasingly dark and somber. They conclude,

“Viewers who watch a high-energy ad during a low-energy show are more likely to avoid watching the commercial, have poorer brand recall if they do watch the ad, and find the ad difficult to watch.”


I have no doubt this is true, provided people are positively engaged with the program content, and it points to the need to take more variables into account than just behavior when judging what ad to serve when. While I doubt that advertisers will design commercials in relation to a particular television show, as suggested by the HBR post’s authors, advertisers could improve their likely effectiveness by choosing context based on likely mood, not just on behavior.

As John reviews in his POV, this principle extends far beyond just choosing the right time to deliver an ad. He proposes that understanding the relationship people already have with a brand could be instrumental in improving the ability to reach the right person with the right message and improving effectiveness still further.

John has now published a new POV titled Video Advertising:  Getting it Right which applies his thinking to the latest AdReaction results. Make sure to read John’s new POV, but before you do, please share your thoughts here. Why are advertisers so willing to ignore learnings on how best to place media? Why is efficiency winning out over effectiveness? Please share your thoughts.