Reigniting the Value of Digital Advertising

By Elliott Clayton, Vice President of Media UK, Conversant

Working in digital advertising, it’s instinct to keep an eye on the adverts that your family, friends and colleagues are being served. I’m sure many reading this can empathise, but to an industry outsider, it might seem odd - when a friend shows me an online video or article on their device, my first glance is to the adverts that surround that content. I actively look out for what many people seem intent on attempting to avoid - adverts.

Recently, while carrying out this informal ad-monitoring, I felt a strong sense of deja vu. Bizarrely, as I sat next to various colleagues, adverts for a popular children’s toy brand started to appear throughout the office. Like a virus moving from one computer to the next, these ads appeared next to content on more and more screens throughout the building. From our senior leadership team down, almost everyone was being pestered by these ads. Either the proprietors of the children’s toy had decided that the demographic make-up of the Conversant Europe head-office was the ideal demographic to buy their toys, or they had no idea what demographic their ads were being served to. As it turns out, the latter was true. 

This is just one, small example of assumptions being made and going seriously wrong. One person in the office had been looking at this popular children's toy as a gift for their daughter. But because every device in the building shares the same IP address, the algorithm responsible for serving those ads decided that all of the devices in the building belonged to, and were used by the same individual. According to the algorithm, there were hundreds of devices, all owned by one person with a very keen interest in children’s toys.

Unfortunately for brands, this isn’t isolated or unique. To reach real people across the devices they use, you need to identify them accurately. Failure to do so doesn’t just cost businesses in misspent advertising dollars. It’s causing severe brand damage, as businesses pester and chase consumers around the internet with inappropriate, irrelevant messaging designed to elicit a click.

The vast majority of identification models are built on cookies and assumptions. They fail to identify the actual person that is looking at the advert. They can’t accurately identify a person across their devices, let alone what actions they have taken offline.

This is an issue on two fronts. Firstly, a lack of data and the insight that can be gleaned from that data. Advertisers need implementable data linked to their customers and prospects. Without it, it’s impossible to know what messaging to serve, when to serve it, and to whom.

Secondly, advertisers need the ability to personalise ad creative to actually deliver relevant messages based on this data. You can have all the data in the world, but without using that data it's useless.

The solution is true media personalisation, and it doesn’t just solve the identification and quality problems I’ve touched upon above. I’m joining a panel this week at Advertising Week Europe to discuss the failure of attribution models to serve business interests. But by personalising media, attribution becomes irrelevant. Advertisers no longer need to base their decisions on extrapolated assumptions. Instead, true measurement of the impact advertising is having on business goals is not only possible, it’s happening right now. Businesses are already increasing their bottom line, indisputably as a result of personalisation.

With a lack of data on consumers, advertisers previously had to rely on attributing the performance of adverts based on a single click. But personalisation negates the need for advertising to elicit that click. The click’s sole purpose was to allow for an (unreliable) return on investment to be calculated, but with personalisation comes an accurate form of measurement - incrementality.

Incrementality, an advanced form of A/B testing the long-term business impact of advertising views on consumers, empowers advertising creative to do its job, whether that’s focussed on branding or transactional objectives. Through the use of non-personally identifiable information (non-PII), creative can be adapted and targeted in real-time, based on a user’s unique circumstances on- and offline.

Consumers haven’t always been intent on avoiding adverts. There was a time not too long ago when consumers used to look out for adverts, just like I do now with my informal ad-monitoring. Adverts added value to people's lives. Office workers chatted about the ads they saw on television the previous night while making their morning coffee. Parents talked about newspaper adverts when dropping their children off at school.

But in the transition to online, advertising has become tied to eliciting a click. The desire to measure action, and find some tenuous method of attributing that action to profit has destroyed the value of advertising to both the consumer and the brand. Personalisation solves this. It brings value to digital advertising.

About Advertising Week Europe

Now in its fifth year, Advertising Week Europe is a hybrid of inspiring thought leadership, entertainment and special events celebrating the industry and its people. For one week, from 20–24 March, the brightest leaders from the marketing, advertising, technology and entertainment industries join together in London to share their visions, passions, and best practices. From seminars and workshops led by some of the greatest minds in the industry by day, to world class entertainment in London’s most iconic venues by night – Advertising Week Europe’s premier roster of events is like no other.

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