Monday, November 14, 2011

The Lack of Transparency in Behavioral Ad Targeting

Behavioral and contextual audience ad targeting is experiencing a healthy boom in the industry. Though while there is much growth, perceived and real success, the lack of transparency in behavioral ad targeting is a real risk to the validity of the methodology. Today many data companies are offering high value in-market segments at improved CPM rates; but do consumers of this data really know what they are getting? Do they really know the quality of the data they are purchasing?

The best way to illustrate this is to take an example. With behavioral targeting, site visitation is a primary proxy for an individuals interest. For example, the following online behaviors may classify someone as an in-market car buyer or car enthusiast.
  • Visitation to a car review site
  • Configured a car with an auto online configuration tool
While this may be very true and valid, let's look at the example a bit further. More specifically, let's consider these as:
  • visitation to
  • User configured an Audi R8 on the Audi site
If using the criteria further above, both of these scenarios classify a visitor as an in-market car buyer or car enthusiast. At first glance this may be a safe proxy for a high performance in-market car buyer. After all, configuring your car is a great indicator that you are ready to purchase an Audi R8. Wow, this is some valuable data. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. As it turns out, the Audi R8 is one of the most popular car configurators on the web. This leads me to wonder whether these are really in-market car buyers or actually in-mid-dream-car-dreamers. Let's face it, a car configurator, and in particular one for the Audi R8 is real car-enthusiast porn.

The point here is, if you are a data buyer for ad targeting purposes, demand your supplier to disclose on what criteria do they use for classifying their data, and further, at what incidence level should you expect these to occur with your life targeting. If you can't get a clear and quantifiable answer, I would suggest this raises some real question on what you are really buying.

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