Two Paths To Targeted Advertising

Context InterestLately I’ve seen two paths to getting your advertising message to your target audience. They both have a measure of effectiveness and they both require an ever deepening understanding of your consumer — two paths to the same goal.  The challenge is matching content with context. With all the reality shows out there, I’m suggesting one for the marketing industry. Do it at a trade show, a conference, or even a Google Hangout. Here’s the premise: have a panel review a series of ads and then determine the demographics and specificity of the audience. It’s a reality check for contextual marketing. It’s not all bad, but I think we need some perspective. Yes, we live in the age of context but I see two types of context emerging. I call it Youtube vs. Adwords. Not that it’s just Youtube or just Adwords. It’s about targeting a specifically identified audience with content vs. creating content to find a specifically identified audience.

Targeting Your Audience

I did a search for a product on Google and now I see ads all over the place for that product and their competitors’ products. This is the essence of targeted marketing: serve up ads and content based on what we think the consumer is looking for. Make them relevant and contextual. The game here is to continue to build and refine profiles on individual consumers to deliver more and more relevant content.

The challenge is the subtleties of identifying the context of interest. The search I mentioned previously was for my competitor’s product. So now I’m being fed ads for their product. And not just their product. I’m being fed ads for their competitors which includes my product. This is not to say it’s not worthwhile to target, but there’s a challenge to determine the context of my interest in a search. We’ve come a long way but we still have a long way to go.

Content Finds Its Audience

There has been some excitement and criticism around Cadillac’s “Poolside” ad for the Cadillac ELR. It features a rich, middle-aged man talking about America’s work ethic and culture. Shortly afterwards Ford came out with an ad for their Ford C-MAX, “Upside,” that appears to mock the Cadillac ad. I saw the Cadillac ad on TV, which means Cadillac paid to target a specific audience based on the expected demographics of the program during which it was airing. In contrast, I saw the Ford ad in my social streams — on Twitter and Facebook — where it was being shared by my friends. I’m in marketing, so some of the shares were of the “this is a cool campaign” variety. However, quite a few were by individuals who really liked the message of the ad and felt the need to share it to amplify the reach of that message. If I discount my marketing friends, I can see that the content Ford created “found” an audience.

While I accept that advertising is an integral part of the content ecosystem, I expect advertisers to try hard to make their content relevant to me. We are long past the age of broadcast, but brands are still working out the kinks of finding ways to deliver their message in context for their target audience. And whether they are targeting a specifically identified audience with content or creating content to find a specifically identified audience, it boils down to finding ways to find alignment of brand messaging with what resonates with their target audience. Maybe it’s not Youtube vs. Adwords. Maybe they’re just two different paths to the same goal.


This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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