The momentum behind digital innovation seems unstoppable – fueling countless research studies and boundless reports on human behavior, predictability and preference. Consumerism, crowdsourcing and engagement continue to propel the online experience and drive social connectivity. Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) is one of the fastest growing forms of advertising and the capture of browser behavior is staple practice for video and display vendors (or their partners). But there’s a very fine line that advertisers need to tread regarding the tracking of their visitors. Too much can seem creepy, invasive and uninvited. Done right, it can be relevant and value-laden.

How Online Behavioral Advertising Works

Contrary to belief, most online ads, including video ads, are not targeted to consumers as individuals, but rather to data “collections”. These are pools of people that have been identified as belonging to specific groups based on:

Demographics (probable age, gender)
• Interests (running, sports, etc.)
• Location
• Online behavior, including buying habits (categories of sites visited)

Targeting ads to one, or a combination, of these groups increases the likelihood of reaching a target market considerably. Consumer studies demonstrate a double-increase in favorability toward OBA advertising when consumer are educated on how segmentation and targeting works.

Industry Regulation: There are considerable steps being taken to regulate behavioral advertising. The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), comprised of major advertisers and industry associations supporting self-regulation, have published guidelines on the type of data than can be used to target and the transparency required in communicating with the general public. This move by the DAA advocates a consumer-friendly mandate, albiet self-regulated, as its commitment to professional integrity and consumer interest. This key principle within the guidelines for OBA ads is that personally identifiable information (PII) will NOT be used to target advertising to individuals, so that only anonymous identifiers are used thereby respecting the privacy of the individual. Since the release of the self –regulation guide referenced above the Alliance has produced additional industry guidelines for targeting via such mediums as mobile.

The Future of Online Behavioural Advertising

There has been talk around standardizing “do not track” options within all web browsers that would prevent the collection of OBA data. However, to date, we are unaware of a feasible application in play. Such an option would shift the balance of ad delivery considerably into the media vendors hands who have similar ways of collecting behavioral data. While discussion has slowed, we may foresee a time when vendors, Google particularly, throw some weight behind the consortiums in order to capitalize on the behavioral market. It is a multi-billion dollar industry, after all. This might evolve to be a more costly but higher quality product available directly from the vendors.

Respect for consumer privacy: Respect for consumer privacy: In extreme cases when bright analysts uncover extremely insightful findings things have the potential to go horribly wrong. As in the case of Targets’ targeted advertising where internal data collection was combined with shoppers PII to uncover a pattern in segment probability resulting in an expectant teen’s father learning of her condition via a gift package from the retailer. A case of well-intended consumer acquisition gone wrong raising alarms for consumers concerned about personal privacy. Retailer adoption of the practice guidelines set forth by the DAA would safeguard against such a blunder ensuring discretion and respect for consumer privacy checks were in place.

consumer privacy

For consumers: Still got the heebies-jeebies? As a respected consumer you do have the option to opt-out but don’t say we didn’t warn you… you may just miss out on some truly unique VIP offers from the brands you’ve grown to love. If you’re curious to see which categories you (as a consumer) belong to then click on the ADCHOICES logo that is present on most of the behavioraly targeted ads, vendor data is remarkably accurate.


For marketers and media mavens: Are you jazzed to kick-start data-mining and jigging your campaign efforts? Here are a few tips to keep you out of the weeds on the road to OBA.

Acquiring Audience Intelligence

The tracking of consumer browsing behavior is now a staple for video and display media vendors (or their partners). By identifying people who have proven “interest” in specific subject matter content media strategists can develop targeted consumer campaigns. Data mining also allows targeting to go one step further by pinpointing consumer browsing habits, shifts in interest, degree of purchase intent and if they are deemed as being “in-market” within specific segments. “Retargeting” is one of the latest maneuvers being adopted, a process that anticipates consumer interests and shares content with a high probability for resonance.

These technologies are available for general browsing and within social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and for both video and display advertising. In addition to drastically improving engagement, OBA supports brand retention and improves product familiarity which nets out to additional online activity and higher conversion rates. Acquiring “behavioral data segments” requires an investment varying from cents to dollars; a wise allotment of dollars in developing an effective media strategy.

Using OBA to Deliver Your Message Effectively

There are two proven elements used to drive video and display ad interaction rates:

The first is ensuring message alignment is in sync with consumer intent. There is a right time to deliver uniquely crafted brand, consideration and/or promotional ads. Each ad has a different purpose and correctly delivered will guide the consumer to the next call to action. Use the targeting information we introduced above, in Acquire Audience Intelligence, to deliver the appropriate brand message depending on where in the purchase cycle they reside. For consumers further along the purchase cycle they may receive highly-targeted content on features and benefits to reinforce confidence in their purchase decision. “Ready–to-buy” consumers would yet again receive a different unique message with where to buy information. This moves away from the blanket approach where consumers were pummeled with unfocused irrelevant ads and promotions to the point of reducing brand value.

The second is to have an ad frequency and rotation strategy. This is a must for campaigns that look to maximize interaction rates. A tailored approach runs ads parallel to a purchase cycle utilizing available data to identify consumer ad tolerance and automate impressions. In order to eliminate consumer fatigue, ads are rotated essentially, holding consumers hands step-by-step through the purchase cycle. Smart repetition penetrates: While stand-alone messages may support individual campaign KPIs utilizing a series of messages in support of one campaign’s various CTA throughout a purchase cycle will support and fostering brand penetration.

Advertisers Need to Practice Accurate Measurement

Poor video and display metric tracking have traditionally reported some of the lowest ROI results for online campaigns. Clearly, this doesn’t foster confidence in value when media dollars are being allocated. Credit is almost always reserved for digital sale or the last action taken before a sale was made (or, lead submitted). This ignores the contributions of other channels prior to the end result. Video or display ad views are rarely measured on the path to that conversion. Given the variety of low-cost technology solutions available, identifying the value of an ad impression to purchase could almost be classified as easy, almost.

Easy or difficult, this knowledge is critical in qualifying, quantifying and adjusting media allocation to maximize conversion. Web analytics solution provider, Adobe offers such tools as, Media Optimizer delivering insight into attribution of credit within your campaigns. Similarly, Google Analytics ties into a suite of DoubleClick products that record attribution and optimizes buying. These tools generally contribute a 15%-20% improvement in media effectiveness and are relatively painless to implement.


Video and display advertising has reached a level of sophistication that should render both irrelevant and creepy ads obsolete. By using readily available consumer targeting tools, focused messaging and a clear delivery strategy media programs will nurture brand relationships with consumers as they embark on their journey to purchase not the feeling of being preyed upon!