The Road to Nowhere: Behavioral Targeting Still Sucks


This post is inspired by and repurposed
from my recent comments on the great blog of
Jim Novo

From my experience profile creation by cookie, also known as
chasing people around the web, is not an effective practice for performance
minded advertisers (and isn’t that everyone now?). It is a bad strategy to guess where I am headed by looking at the
tracks I have left behind.

This is because one of
the key components of using targeting for persuasion is timing
. We have to be
intelligent enough to know when the user is in a context for the ad to generate
attention from them. To me this issue is best solved by content matching – ad
content to site content.

Previous browsing “behavior” is a bad indicator of real-time
relevance and the web is real-time media. There are so many flaws with BT
(cookie deletion, shared computers, work/home) but the basic fact is the behavior of people is simply

Behavioral segments always run the risk of becoming sliced
too thin to scale but the more you slice the segments the more predictable
behavior becomes. Conversely, the larger your profile base the more variance
you find in behavior. Ironically, BT has been sold as a panacea for Brand
advertising. Makes no sense. If anything, it would work well for DR except for
the fact that economically it makes no sense there either.

One new way BT is looking to improve is by inputting search
keyword history into profiles. Google & Yahoo are doing this now.
However, until people fundamental change how they search (generically) success
will be limited and certainly not solve the issues of scale and demand-gen.

Another giant problem I would like to amplify is the role of
creative. BT or no BT traditional forms of display creative are just never
going to perform well. What’s the performance of a billboard? Publicis and WPP
have set up offshore production facilities to create thousands of banners for campaigns so
they could be optimized. Throwing (away) money at this problem is not going to work either.

Let us move on to new ways of targeting people with display ads. While we are at it why don't we eliminate the fat cats. There is huge value creation potential for businesses,
advertisers, publishers and the audience if we disintermediate the low
performance/high cost Planning>Creative>BT systems.  Businesses
and marketers need to stop putting up billboards and start paving roads!

Previous posts
kicking BT in the ass:

Behavioral Targeting Standards – RIP BT 1.0

Behavioral Targeting is Not Just Banners

7 Facts About On-Site
Behavioral Targeting

While I am opening my
cans of whoop ass, previous posts on Agencies:

The Next Generation of Digital Marketing Agencies

Brand Marketing in
the Digital Age

Platforms, Applications and the Future of Digital



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6 responses to “The Road to Nowhere: Behavioral Targeting Still Sucks”

  1. Gab Goldenberg Avatar

    Here’s a fun scenario.
    I’ve visited SEO Book’s sales page. Ditto SEOmoz’s. I’ve also been to Amazon’s “section” on usability, online marketing and related topics.
    You put 2+2 together and say: “Hey, Gab likes to read and learn about online marketing. Let’s offer him a 24-hour only coupon and see if we can finally push him through the checkout?”
    I’d likely buy :).
    Then again, I feel I may be confusing BT with retargeting. Unless retargeting is just a form of BT. Except that imho, once you’ve got someone’s interests, you can sell them related products, not just those from a given merchant/brand he ‘originally’ visited.
    Of course the technology issues you highlight are still there.
    2 cents from someone who’s got much less experience than you, but also agrees that agencies suck for the most part.


  2. Jonathan Mendez Avatar

    Hey Gab,
    Thanks for the comment.
    Your scenario is a good one and it highlights a few flaws in BT, namely tracking and sharing of cookie data e.g. privacy! No service I know, save your ISP & browser (Google Chrome anyone?), is able to track you across the three sites you mentioned. Also, what benefit is it to SEOmoz to share you behavior with an advertiser when SEOmoz does not accept ads themselves?
    That said, retargeting is a highly effective means of targeted. While it is behavior in the practical sense (and among my 4 buckets of targeting — source, behavior, temporal & environment) it’s no more BT in the industry sense than geo targeting.


  3. Ben Avatar

    Hi Jonathan- nice post. I’m glad I found your blog!


  4. berta Avatar

    Hi, guys! If compared with IE, Google Chrome has more advantages than disadvantages. I am using it since the release date and am completely satisfied. The latest version is available already


  5. HenryBee Avatar

    Quite an interesting opinion, really glad that I have found this post.


  6. gtr1 Avatar

    Like your blog and posts, I will bookmark it.


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