Behaviorally-Targeted Advertising, Worth the Cost?

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By: Jennifer Cove Sullivan, Group Account Director, Mercury Media Boston

The effectiveness of behaviorally-targeted media across all mediums has been heavily debated over the last few years.  A recent study by the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) found that behaviorally-targeted advertising is more than twice as effective at converting users who click on the ads into buyers and that behavioral advertising accounted for approximately 18% of advertising revenue. While I don’t debate or disagree with the study findings, I do think it overlooks one vital truth – the effectiveness of behavioral advertising comes down to how specific and narrow your demo and product/service is and what your defined campaign goals are.

If an advertiser is promoting a product or service with a narrowly targeted audience that is more order/acquisition driven than lead driven, we would likely recommend that client focus on behaviorally-targeted media.  However, if an advertiser is promoting a broad based widget product that he/she is airing nationally to A25-54 or even W25-54, we would not recommend behaviorally-targeted media.  Our experience has shown us that the extra cost of behaviorally targeted media is not likely to outweigh the benefits of cost-efficient ROS media.  This truth is the heart and soul of direct response advertising.

Advertisers should also take into account that the ways people consume media have changed.  Commute times start earlier and end later and less people are working traditional nine to five hours, which ultimately means that advertisers can speak to potential customers at any time of the day or night.

Radio has been taking advantage of this fact to sell air time for some time now. For example, AC/soft rock radio stations are top ranked in “at work listening.”  Some would debate that advertisements running during the work day are perceived as background noise however, radio stations have found that web sales spike for advertisers whose spots run during these times. That is because people are consuming media across several platforms at a one time.  At work listeners, who are likely near a computer, hear about a product or service that appeals to them on the radio and stop what they’re working on to research it on a corresponding web site.  It just makes sense.

In an era of cross platform communication, it is more important than ever for advertisers to understand who they are talking to and how they are reaching them.  While behaviorally-targeted advertising is highly effective for targeted products and services, a smart media buying strategy that optimizes lead generation across platforms can achieve similar results from a national audience for a fraction of the cost.

The key to success is not behaviorally-targeted advertising, but rather, it is a targeted advertising strategy that puts your audience and campaign goals first.

Jennifer can be reached at


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